SEC Football: Power Ranking the 10 Best Players for 2013
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Despite another mass exodus of talent leaving for the NFL, the SEC will still be home to a collection of the nation’s top college football players in 2013.
The league will be represented by possibly the nation’s top individual talent on both offense and defense—with reigning Heisman Trophy winner and Texas A&M star quarterback Johnny Manziel and beastly South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney representing two of the game’s most electrifying players this fall.
While rising talents such as Georgia running back Todd Gurley and Alabama receiver Amari Cooper will give the league a boost at the skill positions, the conference’s streak of seven consecutive national titles has largely come to fruition due to its strength in the trenches.
Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio represent a pair of the nation’s top offensive tackle prospects.
With a number of programs consistently racking up on the recruiting trail, several SEC schools are brimming with up and coming talents that could find their way onto postseason awards lists by the end of the season.
Which SEC stars enter the 2013 season as the league’s premier talents?
Find out in the breakdown that profiles the SEC’s 10 best players for 2013.
10. Aaron Murray
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After leading Georgia to back-to-back Eastern Division titles, Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray flirted with the decision to turn pro after leading the league in total passing yards (3,893) and touchdown passes (36), according to cfbstats.com.
What makes those numbers even more impressive is the fact that his receiver unit was rarely at full strength.
Murray’s return gives Mark Richt’s club a strong chance to represent its division in the SEC title game for the third consecutive season.
With a strong running game and a dynamic playmaker at receiver in Malcolm Mitchell to throw to, Murray is a safe bet to have a third consecutive 3,000-yard passing season.
9. T.J. Yeldon
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It didn’t take long for T.J. Yeldon to quickly establish himself as the next freakish running back to emerge from Alabama’s backfield.
After rushing for 111 yards in the season-opening win over Michigan, Yeldon would go on to finish his debut season on the college level with 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
With Eddie Lacy off to the NFL, Yeldon assumes the coveted role of becoming the Tide’s lead back—which seemingly ensures that superstardom is imminent considering the players that have recently emerged from that position.
Yeldon—along with LSU’s Jeremy Hill and Georgia’s Todd Gurley—heads an explosive group of sophomore backs that will terrorize SEC defenses for at least the next two seasons.
8. Amari Cooper
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Yeldon wasn’t Alabama’s only dynamic freshman skill player to add some explosiveness to the Tide’s attack.
Amari Cooper quickly emerged as A.J. McCarron’s go-to receiver, and he ended the 2012 season by topping the 100-yard mark in four of the Tide’s last five games.
Whether it was his game-clinching touchdown in the SEC title game or his standout performance in the BCS title game victory over Notre Dame, Cooper displayed a knack for making big plays in big games.
Cooper—who finished with 999 yards receiving and 11 scores—enters 2013 as one of the nation’s most electric wideouts and potentially the best pass-catcher in the SEC.
7. C.J. Mosley
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While Yeldon is carrying on Alabama’s tradition of bruising and punishing running backs, Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley is crafting his own niche at a school that has produced some of the most physically imposing players at the position in recent years.
The 6’2”, 232-pound Mosley is not the specimen that former Tide greats Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw were, but he’s an instinctive and versatile defender that may be the nation’s top linebacker in pass coverage.
Mosley tallied 107 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble en route to earning first-team All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association.
Considering that he had a banner junior season while splitting time at his position with the now-departed Nico Johnson, Mosley’s senior season could see him end his career as one of the Tide’s most decorated
linebackers in school history.
6. Todd Gurley
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Gurley may not have arrived in Athens with the same fanfare as Yeldon did in Tuscaloosa, but the North Carolina native led all SEC running backs with 1,385 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns as a true freshman.
The 6’1”, 218-pounder is far from a one-trick pony, as he’s displayed his ability to be a receiver out of the backfield and even scored a touchdown on a kickoff return last season.
Even though he came into the SEC with a touted class of running backs that included Yeldon, Hill and teammate Keith Marshall, it is Gurley that was able to make the loudest statement in 2012.
With Murray’s return and a promising young offensive tackle in John Theus for the offensive line to rebuild around, Gurley has everything in place to continue his ground assault this season.
5. Cyrus Kouandjio
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This time a year ago, Alabama entered spring practice with four returning starters on its offensive line, and Nick Saban entrusted talented sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio with the task of playing left tackle, and in
turn, allowing All-American Barrett Jones to move to center.
Kouandjio went from being the perceived question mark on his unit at the beginning of the season to being one of the nation’s top left tackles by the end of the year.
The 6’6”, 311-pound junior earned the respect of his All-American linemates last season, and with a trio of starters to replace on the offensive line this season, Kouandjio will serve as the unit’s anchor (h/t, Andrew Gribble, AL.com).
4. Jake Matthews
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There isn't a scout, GM or line coach who I've spoken w/ abt L. Joeckel that hasn't mentioned that they believe Jake Mathews is same quality
— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) March 17, 2013
With Matthews already a projected first-round pick if he would have entered this year’s draft, the news of his return is certainly a tremendous boost for an Aggies team that most pundits will tout as a preseason national title contender.
3. AJ McCarron
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Only in the SEC can a quarterback win two national titles in as many seasons as a starting quarterback and be considered underrated.
That’s the plight of Alabama’s AJ McCarron—who quietly threw for nearly 3,000 yards and put up an absurd touchdown-to-interception ratio of 10-to-1 last season.
Like Murray, Mosley and Matthews, McCarron also chose to put off the NFL in favor of playing his final collegiate season.
If McCarron can lead the Tide to their third consecutive national title, he will undoubtedly depart Tuscaloosa with a legacy that places him amongst the greatest college football quarterbacks of all time.
Despite all of his accomplishments, however, he still is unlikely to claim the honors of being the best quarterback in the conference thanks to the next player on this list.
2. Johnny Manziel
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In a stunning development that few could possibly predict, Texas A&M’s historic move to the SEC led to a resurrection of the Aggies previously dormant program in its first season in the league.
After witnessing Cam Newton run roughshod through the SEC in 2010, fans around the league had to wonder when they would ever see a season like the one that Newton had in propelling the Tigers to the 2010 national title.
Little did they know what was about to hit them two years later.
After 11 wins, a season full of jaw-dropping highlights and becoming the first freshman to capture the Heisman Trophy, Manziel has become the sport’s brightest and most polarizing figure.
Not bad for a guy that was a relative unknown redshirt freshman fighting for a starting job.
So what’s on tap for Johnny Football’s encore?
1. Jadeveon Clowney
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While technically this could be a 1A and 1B type of categorization with Johnny Football and Clowney, in a list full of offensive firepower, it’s only right that the toughest conference in the land be
represented by a defender that happens to be the most freakish athlete in the country.
After all, there’s something to be said about a consensus 5-star prospect entering college with as much fanfare that surrounded Clowney and the player actually exceeding the hype.
It’s safe to assume Michigan running back Vincent Smith is now a believer of Clowney’s ridiculous talents. We’ve all seen the hit heard and felt around the world a billion times, and it never gets old.
But beyond his seemingly super-human abilities, Clowney is simply the most dominant athlete in college football for 2013.