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Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Ole Miss Players to Watch in 2012

A few days ago we kicked off our SEC football Q & A sessions by talking about the teams that could contend with Georgia in the east and LSU or Alabama in the west. Today we will take a look at some of the unknown players in the league who could become stars this season.

Joining us once again is Kevin from College Football Zealots, Lisa Cornwell from So Fried Sports and John Pennington from MrSEC. Let’s get right to it …

Kevin – College Football Zealots: The obvious answer to this question is some of the quarterbacks throughout the league. Kiehl Frazier for Auburn is a guy who has all the talent in the world but I think he’s still a year away from becoming a “star”. The winner of the Florida QB battle between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will have a chance to become a big star. Of course there is Zach Mettenberger of LSU. He waited his turn last year but this year he has locked down the starting QB job for the Tigers and the college football world is looking for big things from him. Those are some QBs to keep an eye on. I think Mettenberger will have the best season but Frazier might have the highest upside once he gets settled in.

Here are a few other names to keep an eye on:

Alabama- Under Nick Saban, it’s been the running back position that has produced big offensively. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson are household names in the college football world and the next “big name” arrived on campus earlier this year. TJ Yeldon is just a true freshman but he was eye-poppingly good earlier this year in a high school all-star game and he doubled that feat in Alabama’s A-Day Game where he won the MVP Award. He’s going to be a good one.

Auburn- LB Corey Lemonier was the only guy who stood out on Auburn’s defense when I watched them last year. This year, Auburn upgrades it’s DC as they hired Brian Van Gorder and I would look for him to continue to grow as he enters his junior year. Look for big things from him.

Georgia- keep an eye on the tight end position and sophomore Jay Rome. Orson Charles has moved onto the NFL and Rome and Arthur Lynch will be taking his spot. Both guys are more of a traditional tight end and fit better with Georgia’s offense. Charles was a fantastic athlete but OC Mike Bobo struggled to work him into the offense consistently. I think you will see Rome and Lynch really step up in his absence. Also, keep an eye on speedy WR Justin Scott Wesley (JSW). He will get some early playing time due to Malcolm Mitchell doing double-duty on offense and defense. He might not put up big time numbers simply because Georgia will go six or seven deep at receiver this year but JSW will make some noise.

South Carolina- Bruce Ellington. Alshon Jeffrey was the Gamecocks receiving corps last year but this year there will be two or three guys that will share the spotlight. QB Connor Shaw hasn’t developed a consistent deep ball yet so expect the Gamecocks to try to get the ball to Ellington in a variety of ways to take some of the heat off of Marcus Lattimore.

Tennessee- I think Justin Hunter is a known commodity but he’s only had 33 receptions in his college career so far (only played three games last year due to injury). He is the Vols best receiver and if he can stay healthy he will give the Vols and Derek Dooley some hope this season.

Ole Miss- WR Donte Moncrief caught 31 passes as a freshman last year for 454 yards. He played in an inept offense. If Hugh Freeze can find a quarterback who can run his offense then Moncrief is going to be a terror for opposing defenses to try and defend.

I wrote a couple of articles for my site earlier this year about rising sophomores that need to step up and that kind of fits in with the theme of this question. Here are some links to some other players to keep an eye on in the SEC East and West.

Lisa Cornwell – So Fried Sports: Latroy Pittman (WR – Florida): I’m not sure if a whole lot of people outside the state of Florida have heard of Pittman but after this season I think SEC fans will know him well. Pittman (a true freshman) was given high marks by Will Muschamp during spring practice. He’s also on a team that desperately needs a go-to receiver after last season’s offensive struggles. I wouldn’t be surprised to see new offensive coordinator Brent Pease make Pittman a focus this fall.

Eddie Lacy (RB – Alabama): A lot of people may not remember too much about Lacy because he was Trent Richardson’s backup last season. But, keep in mind, he averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 2011 for 674 yards. Lacy also had seven rushing touchdowns, which was a third of what Richardson had. But he also only got a third of the carries. If Lacy is fully recovered from the turf toe injury he battled this spring, Alabama’s ground game will be just as potent as ever.

Steven Jenkins (LB – Texas A&M): Besides a new conference, the Aggies are facing plenty of other changes this year, including a switch from the 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. With this move, Damontre Moore will become a full-time pass rusher at the defensive end position. Jenkins had an impressive spring an is expected to fill Moore’s shoes nicely. Jenkins is so high on the radar that he recently made’s Bruce Feldman’s List of Top 10: The most pleasant surprise players of the spring, coming in at No.4.

John Pennington – MrSEC: Running backs Eddy Lacy and TJ Yeldon will be called upon to replace the production of Trent Richardson at Alabama. If there’s no major drop-off in production, one or both of those guys will get plenty of pub.

Defensive end Dee Ford — the MVP of Auburn’s spring game — will be called on to provide a pass rush for the Tigers. He missed all of last season with a back injury, but this spring he looked solid and showed the ability to wreak havoc off the edge.

Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders has helped Andre Woodson and then Mike Hartline put up good numbers in Lexington. Now he’s got second-year quarterback Maxwell Smith to coach. Smith showed flashes after taking over the starting job last season. Based on past performance, he could be a guy that Sanders coaxes good numbers from.

The Saturday Edge: I am most anxious to see how Zach Mettenberger performs at LSU. From everything I am reading, this kid is an upgrade over both Jefferson and Lee. In our 7 part series – Essential Tips For Betting On College Football, I reference an article written by former University of Washington QB Brock Huard in Tip # 6: How important is the QB position in college football? Huard suggests that if USC’s Matt Barkley had been under center for LSU in the BCS title game last January, chances are, LSU would be getting ready to defend a BCS title right now. I personally don’t agree with this assessment/analogy, however it does make you wonder how much better LSU’s offense can be with a playmaker like Mettenberger under center.

Also, check out Kevin’s post SEC East: Who Will Challenge Georgia & South Carolina? He expands on his answer to yesterday’s question “Who can contend with Georgia in the east and LSU or Alabama in the west?” More specifically he delves deeper into the SEC east portion of the question.

Come back tomorrow as we discuss which team will show the greatest improvement over last season, and which team is overrated. And don’t forget to leave us your questions and comments below. Thanks – Pez.

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Get more great college football analysis over at Saturday Edge.


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