July 16, 2013 9:04:11 AM
HOOVER, Ala. - Before The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog leaves Starkville for the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., for the craziness and overhyped grandstanding event to unofficially kick off Southeastern Conference football - 2013 SEC media days - I thought I'd share with you The Dispatch's official preseason All-SEC ballot and the preseason predictions for the upcoming campaign.
Without further ado.....
Commercial Dispatch All-SEC ballot
QB - AARON MURRAY, GEORGIA: I know what you're thinking here and yes, Texas A&M University quarterback Johnny Manziel won the 2012 Heisman Trophy and this slot should be reserved for him right? Wrong. This is a new season and I believe SEC defensive coordinators have had a full offseason to break down Manziel and his weaknesses, specifically throwing the football, to present him with unique challenges in 2013. Coordinators have had three years to figure out Aaron Murray in Mark Richt's offense at Georgia and all he's done is break the school's all-time record for touchdown passes (95) and needs just 1,438 yards to break David Greene's SEC record of 11,528. Add in the fact that Georgia has nine returning starters on offense and I like Murray as a darkhorse Heisman candidate for 2013.
RB - TJ YELDON, ALABAMA; TODD GURLEY, GEORGIA: While splitting carries with Eddie Lacy last year, Yeldon still managed 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. What will he do this season as the full-time back but with a new offensive line? Gurley had 1,385 yards last season, which was second best in school history for a freshman behind Herschel Walker. Not bad company to be in at all.
WR - AMARI COOPER, ALABAMA; ODELL BECKHAM Jr., LSU: Cooper leads a deep group of receivers for the Crimson Tide that didn't lose any significant contributors to last year's national title run. Beckham Jr., is a bit of a reach possibly but he had 43 catches for a team-high 713 yards last season and I like the idea of coordinator Cam Cameron running that LSU offense now. If I could take three wide receivers, I would've selected Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief because I look for the Wallace-Moncrief combination to be one of the best in the league.
TE - ARTHUR LYNCH, GEORGIA: Message to Mississippi State fans here - my second pick at this position is Malcolm Johnson. However, in Mike Bobo's pro-style offense the tight end is going to have be to significant again and with all the weapons around Murray, I believe the 6-foot-5, 258-pound Lynch at tight end is a matchup problem waiting to happen.
OG/OT - JAKE MATTHEWS, LT, TEXAS A&M; GABE JACKSON, LG, MISSISSIPPI STATE; ANTHONY STEEN, RG, ALABAMA; CYRUS KOUANDJIO, RT, ALABAMA: I tried to pick two guards and two tackles in this spot despite the SEC allowing for the possibility of not doing so. Jackson is pretty clear to MSU fans as an obvious choice but I think fans outside Starkville, Miss., will have fun watching him develop into one of the best guards in the nation this season. Matthews steps in for Luke Joeckel on the left tackle spot and I think he's maybe a better prospect than the Aggies 2012 first round pick. The Tide are losing three starters on the offensive line but the two returning are maybe the best guard-tackle duo in the country.
C - JAMES STONE, TENNESSEE: This is where I make a joke about how good I think James' brother Keith Stone is right? Wrong. This is where I tell you that Tennessee has 123 combined starts returning on the offensive line with four returning starters. Not a bad place for new Volunteers head coach Butch Jones to start and Stone is the leader of what should be one of the best units in the country.
DL - JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE, SOUTH CAROLINA; DANIEL McCULLERS, DT, TENNESSEE; ANTHONY JOHNSON, DT LSU; KALEB EULLS, DE, MISSISSIPPI STATE: Do we really have to explain the Clowney pick? No. I will say if there was a MVP selection (which I don't know why there's not) Clowney would be it. However, beyond the Gamecocks dominator, the SEC doesn't have a lot of noteworthy experienced defensive lineman. So I picked three others that will see time at defensive tackle in McCullers, Johnson and Eulls. Eulls is going to be seen as a homer pick for MSU but I really believe that now that he's back at his natural position of defensive tackle and the position coach that recruited him in David Turner, I'll predict big things for Eulls. McCullers is a mountain man at 360 pounds and back in a 4-3 that will work for him. Johnson had one-third of his 30 tackles last season for a loss.
LB - C.J. MOSLEY, ALABAMA; BENARDRICK McKINNEY, MISSISSIPPI STATE; DENZEL NKEMDICHE, OLE MISS: I could've gone with any of Alabama's four returning starters at linebacker but Moseley gives them the most diversity in terms of coverage and ability to rush the passer. McKinney earned freshman All-America honors in 2012 after tying for second in the FBS in tackles by a freshman. He'll thrive in Geoff Collins' new system allowing players to fly around in a more chaotic fashion. Nkemdiche is my wildcard pick here because I know his little brother will draw more attention as the No. 1 rated high school player. However, Denzel Nkemdiche put together a quiet but more than effective season by leading the Rebels in every statistical category.
DB - ANDRE HALL, CB, VANDERBILT; DEION BLUE, CB, ALABAMA; CRAIG LOSTON, FS, LSU; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, SS, ALABAMA: I tried to pick two cornerbacks and two safeties here so it worked out that I took the two returning defensive backs from Alabama and the person I think is the best cover corner in the league this year in Hall at Vanderbilt. Loston had three interceptions last year including a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against Mississippi State. I love the way LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis uses his safeties in his defense and Loston will benefit from his genius.
PK/P - CASEY SPEAR, PK, VANDERBILT; BAKER SWENDENBURG, MISSISSIPPI STATE: Spear set the school record with 20 field goals last season. Even though Swendenburg still needs to work on his jump pass, yes it's been three years and I still give him grief over that, he had 41.1 yards per punt last season and is really good and burying the ball inside the 10-yard-line.
RETURN - BRUCE ELLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: At 5-foot-9 and 197-pounds, Ellington may be the most dynamic athlete in the SEC this season and will be a force on kick returns this season for the Gamecocks.
ALL-PURPOSE PLAYER - LADARIUS PERKINS, MISSISSIPPI STATE: I truly believe MSU is going to either have lots of fun or lots of headaches trying to figure out how to get Perkins to touch the ball as many times as they clearly need to in a game. The senior tailback admitted Monday he'll be on punt returns this season and that will give him another dynamic way to change a game this season.
Commercial Dispatch team standings ballot
ANALYSIS: I really love Georgia to win the East but what shocked me when filing this out was my confidence in Tennessee and my lack of confidence in Vanderbilt. I really believe in hiring Butch Jones that Tennessee significantly upgraded its leadership and again that offensive line is going to be dominant. Vanderbilt isn't sneaking up on anybody anymore after a 9-win season last year but must replace the quarterback and running backs and play Ole Miss and South Carolina in the first four weeks. I really think Missouri will rally behind the hot seat questions surrounding Gary Pinkel and James Franklin is too talent at quarterback to not bounce back in 2013.
ANALYSIS: My surprise here is LSU because the Tigers only have three returning starters on defense but this is where you learn once again about the recruiting talent at LSU and the genius of LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis. MSU is fourth in the West, yes - ahead of Ole Miss, because I think quarterback Tyler Russell is going to have an even better year than 2012 in the more pro-style attack at MSU.
SEC CHAMPION: Alabama - Look, I wanted SO BADLY to pick Georgia here and I admit that if I had any guts I would've. The problem is until Alabama doesn't win a national championship, I'm not brave enough to pick against the Crimson Tide but I need to stress that I think Georgia came within six yards of beating the Tide in Atlanta last year and have a better shot in 2013.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
5. A Stone's Throw: The veil COLUMNS