SEC Football: 6 Teams That Will Be Counting on Freshmen in 2013
One of the reasons why the SEC has been able to claim the past seven national championships is the talented crop of freshmen that decides to call the South "home" year in and year out. As soon as one superstar running back or clutch quarterback leaves for the NFL draft, there is always a young star ready to replace him.
Just call it the SEC circle of life. As one class departs, another one enters. Unlike in most other conferences, however, each class is loaded with the pinnacle of the nation's best high school prospects.
This fall, some of the SEC's biggest powerhouses will need to rely on their new freshman classes in order to maintain their status as college football heavyweights. Others, meanwhile, are hoping their freshmen can carry them to the next tier of the conference food chain. In either case, some of the country's most talented youngsters will be asked to take the field and make an impact during their first year on campus.
Here are six SEC squads that are counting on a boost from their incoming freshmen.
Kendell Beckwith, photo via 247sports.com
The LSU Tigers are currently facing a mass exodus of huge proportions. A multitude of LSU's juniors have declared for the NFL draft, leaving many holes to fill.
One major problem area is the defensive line. Obviously, the Tigers were not able to land Robert Nkemdiche. Still, they will be in good shape thanks to a few key recruits. Kendell Beckwith and Tashawn Bower can make an early impact at defensive end. Meanwhile, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain can develop into excellent defensive tackles.
Corners Jeryl Brazil and Tre'Davious White should also see playing time in the secondary next season.
Offensively, Ethan Pocic, Andy Dodd and K.J. Malone can seal up any holes on the offensive line. In addition, ESPN 4-star tight end prospect DeSean Smith has the capability to become a secret weapon of sorts.
It may be a rebuilding year for LSU, but this talented class should keep the drop-off at a minimum. The Tigers should once again compete for a spot in the SEC title game.
Vernon Hargreaves III, photo via 247sports.com
The Florida Gators made a surprising push toward the national title game in 2012, but they came up just short and went on to play Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.
One of the biggest problems Florida will face in trying to duplicate that success is the need to replace key components from last year's squad. Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam, Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins are just some of the names that are no longer in the picture.
The rebuild starts with ESPN 5-star recruit Vernon Hargreaves III. Hargreaves is one of the most gifted athletes in this year's class, and he has the potential to be one of the most feared shutdown corners in the SEC. He will likely have a starting role once the season begins.
The Gators have also reloaded at linebacker. Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin each have enormous upside at this position. Any one of them can emerge and become a star.
The offense is also receiving its fair share of reinforcements. Fellow ESPN 5-star recruit Kelvin Taylor is a future bruiser out of the backfield. In addition, Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson each have the potential to develop into the team's first true go-to receiver since Riley Cooper.
If Florida wants to compete for another BCS appearance, these talented freshmen will need to make a big impact.
Ole Miss Rebels
Robert Nkemdiche, photo via 247sports.com
An SEC afterthought in recent years, the Ole Miss Rebels hired Hugh Freeze in 2011 to turn the program around. After leading the Rebels to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009, Freeze made even more noise this offseason.
He and his staff put together ESPN's fifth-ranked recruiting class and vaulted the team back into the national conversation.
The centerpiece is none other than ESPN and overall consensus top recruit Robert Nkemdiche. The extremely talented defensive end has all the makings of a future NFL sack machine. He has quickness, toughness and just about anything else one could want in a star lineman.
To improve their pedestrian rushing attack, the Rebels nabbed talented offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson. Also included are a pair of ESPN 4-star running backs in Kailo Moore and Jordan Wilkins. These recruits will hopefully take some of the pressure off quarterback Bo Wallace.
Speaking of Wallace, he will now have Rivals.com 5-star receiver Laquon Treadwell as another weapon in an already-dangerous arsenal.
The Rebels are not necessarily losing a ton of key players. However, their new class is so talented, they will have no choice but to put these skilled underclassmen in the lineup. For that reason, they will be relying on this exceptional bunch to take them to another level.
Carl Lawson, photo via 247sports.com
Auburn's 2012 season was a complete disaster. The Tigers went winless in SEC play, and the team's biggest win came against Louisiana-Monroe.
In the end, Gene Chizik lost his job only two years removed from a national championship. Even with all this turmoil, the Tigers managed to put together the 11th-best recruiting class in college football this offseason, according to ESPN experts.
On the defensive side, Under Armour All-American Carl Lawson leads the charge. He is almost as much of a sure bet as Nkemdiche, and he can be productive immediately. Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel will also immediately compete for spots on the defensive line.
The Tiger offense was also a mess last season. Freshman Jeremy Johnson will likely begin the season as the backup to Jonathan Wallace, but he may very well win the starting job by the middle of the season, especially if few points are being scored.
No matter who is throwing the ball, the team will need to find receivers because top weapon Emory Blake is no longer there. The Tigers will likely rely on Tony Stevens, Dominic Walker and Earnest Robinson to carry the load. This talented trio should allow Gus Malzahn to open up the playbook and move the ball.
Things cannot get any worse for Auburn. Facing little to no expectations from a national audience, the Tigers should play their freshmen heavily and prepare them for success down the road.
Shaq Wiggins, photo via 247sports.com
With Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall all returning to Athens next season, Georgia's offense looks like it will be more explosive than it was last season. The situation on defense, however, is a completely different story.
Mark Richt's linebacking corps and secondary have been gutted to a degree. This means talented corner Shaq Wiggins will see the field quite a bit next season. Also likely to immediately compete for extended playing time is Rivals.com 4-star safety Tray Matthews. He is solid in zone coverage and has terrific instincts for a young prospect.
As for linebackers, Johnny O'Neal looks like he can provide an early return on the Bulldogs' investment. The ESPN 4-star prospect has solid recognition skills and is great against the run. Tim Kimbrough and Ryne Rankin are two other linebackers who could see significant action as well.
Georgia's offense alone makes the team an immediate favorite in the SEC along with Alabama. However, the Bulldogs will only be able to avenge their loss in the SEC title game if these recruits immediately make their presence felt on defense.
Texas A&M Aggies
Manziel will have to find a new target in place of Ryan Swope.
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Last season was a smashing success for the Texas A&M Aggies on all accounts. They defeated top-ranked Alabama in their first SEC campaign, and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel led them to a Cotton Bowl victory. However, Texas A&M has a few question marks to take care of if a BCS championship is the ultimate destination.
On defense, Jordan Mastrogiovanni looks set to be an early replacement at linebacker. Justin Manning and Isaiah Golden are two tackles who will also likely be called upon at some point.
Of course, the Aggies have Johnny Manziel, which might just be enough to carry them to the promised land. Chances are, however, that their freshman class will have to make a valuable contribution in order to reach a BCS game.