The SEC is a league where men play football. Physical, gut wrenching, de-cleating football. The SEC also graduates many players to the NFL every year which leaves opportunity for underclassmen to step up and take the spotlight. Let's take a look at some rising sophomores in the Western half of the league who are going to have a lot more expectations on them this year. These six (ok it's really seven, you caught me) players are on the clock and their performances could mean the differences in wins and losses for their schools:
Alabama- Cyrus Kouandjio (OT)- Alabama is moving their Outland Trophy winning offensive lineman Barrett Jones to center this season. Why are they doing this? Because they believe that Cyrus Kouandijo can fill in for him at left tackle. Left tackle in the SEC is big boy football so the pressure will be squarely on Kouandijo. Not only will he be replacing Jones but he will also be coming back from a knee injury and protecting the man who will be the most important piece of Alabama's offense this season, AJ McCarron.
Arkansas- Tevin Mitchell (CB)- The Razorbacks lose their best defensive players this season and are also flipping coordinators. Mitchell was one of the youngsters on the defense that was able to make an impact last season with 56 total tackles. The Hogs lose Tremain Thomas and Jerico Nelson out of the defensive backfield so Mitchell will need to step up as more of a play-maker this season. The difference between Arkansas and LSU/Alabama the last few seasons has been defense. Will that change this year?
Auburn- Kiehl Frazier (QB)- Who will win the Auburn QB derby is one of the biggest mysteries of the spring. Frazier might be Auburn's best chance to win this season because of his ability to be a dual threat quarterback. He's going to have to make huge strides this season if he wants to win the job and help the Tigers win some more games this season. Frazier was very limited last year as he played in thirteen games but only threw twelve passes. Will Scott Loeffler trust him more than Gus Malzahn did and can he take the next step for Auburn?
LSU- Odell Beckham (WR)- Beckham is a name that you should recognize if you follow SEC football. Beckham finished last season with 41 receptions for 475 yards but only had two touchdowns (that placed him second behind only Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell in receptions for freshemn). Beckham put those numbers up as a second and third target. This year Beckham is going to step into the shoes of Reuben Randle as he and Russell Sheperd will be breaking in new QB Zach Mettenberger. One of the reasons LSU could not win the BCS NCG last year was their passing game. Beckham had five catches in that game but only for 38 yards. He will be a huge part of LSU's attempt to stay a bit more balanced this season.
Mississippi State- Matthew Wells (LB)- Wells was a four star recruit for Dan Mullen in 2010 and Scout.com had him as the #17 running back in the country. He was one of the most touted players out of Mississippi that year and thus a huge get for Mullen. Wells made the flip to defense, red-shirted his freshman year and started to have an impact last year in his redshirt freshman campaign. The Bulldogs lose LBs Brandon Maye (41 tackles) and Brandon Wilson (94 tackles) this season. Mullen's dogs have been weak at linebacker the last few years and Wells stepping up would be huge for their chances of winning more ball games this season and having a bounce back year.
Ole Miss- Nickolas Brassell/Donte Moncrief (WR)- Both of these young receivers had good freshman campaigns. Moncrief caught 31 passes and Brassell caught 24. The problem is that Ole Miss sucked on offense and they didn't have anybody to get them the football so they could do more damage. Huge Freeze is in town now and is looking to play "basketball on grass". He wants to throw the ball and around and these two guys are going to be huge assets for Freeze. SEC secondaries are going to find out about these guys. Will they help Ole Miss find it's way out of the cellar?
Texas A&M- Howard Matthews (SAF)- The SEC is won with defense and let's face it, the Aggies defense was not very good against the pass last year and this year they will see a lot more of teams running against them. The Aggies will also lose a lot of secondary depth (Trent Hunter, Terrence Frederick, Lionel Smith). Howard Matthews is a high profile recruit that saw some action last year but will need to step up his game this season. Last season he played in thirteen games making twenty-eight tackles with two sacks and a forced fumble. A&M needs better play from their defense and this guy will be a key.