SEC mailbag: Ton of talent leaving

With seven more SEC spring games on tap for this weekend, and now that I’m off the road for a little bit, it’s a good time to empty out the SEC mailbag

Before we start, though, I want to give a shout-out to my new colleague Edward Aschoff, a five-star recruit if there ever was one. We look forward to bringing you even more SEC coverage. As we know, this conference never sleeps.

Now, on to your questions:

Dorian in Troy, Ala., writes: Will the SEC be as good with Cam Newton, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Patrick Peterson, Greg McElroy, Nick Fairley and A.J. Green all going to the next level?

Chris Low: Some serious talent is leaving the league, no doubt. Just look at the list of underclassmen turning pro early. Six of the guys you named were juniors, and that’s not even mentioning Marcell Dareus, Randall Cobb, Justin Houston and Darvin Adams, all of whom had a year of eligibility remaining. While I still think the SEC will be the best league in the country next season, I don’t see it being quite as top-heavy with marquee talent. Of course, as soon as I say that, guys like Alshon Jeffery, Knile Davis, Marcus Lattimore, Dont’a Hightower, Trent Richardson, Greg Childs, Aaron Murray, Morris Claiborne, Chris Marve and Janoris Jenkins come to mind. It will be interesting to see which defensive linemen come to the forefront. Remember, Fairley was virtually unknown at this point a year ago.

Paul in Broken Arrow, Okla., writes: Hey Chris, I love your fair and balanced blog. I was watching the first edition of "Heismanology" on College Football Live today and was interested to see if they mentioned Knile Davis. Now, I personally think he's a long shot, but not only did they not mention him, they instead mentioned Trent Richardson, who had half of Davis’ yardage totals, and guys like E.J. Manuel at Florida State, who as yet is an unproven player who’s been decently good at best in six starts. Why this failure to credit Knile Davis for his impressive body of work?

Chris Low: First off, I’m certainly a big fan of Davis and think he’s one of the more complete running backs I saw last season in terms of being a breakaway threat, a guy who could get yards in chunks and a guy who could get the tough yards. That said, I still think the way Davis flew in under the radar last season hurts him in terms of name recognition around the country. The other thing is that with Dennis Johnson healthy again and a deep stable of running backs (thinned out some by Broderick Green’s torn ACL), the Hogs may split up the carries more in 2011. Richardson, meanwhile, will probably be the workhorse in Alabama’s offense. At the end of the day, it’s all guesswork when it comes to predicting Heisman contenders. The last two Heisman Trophy winners (Cam Newton and Mark Ingram) weren’t on anybody’s preseason lists. If Davis has another season like he did a year ago and the Hogs win 10-plus games, I guarantee you he’ll get some Heisman love.

Mark in West Columbia, S.C., writes: Chris, it looks like Steve Spurrier and Eric Hyman are going to give Stephen Garcia every chance to come back yet again. But I am one of those who strongly disagrees with this and am curious of your thoughts. I think any player suspended five times should be gone and that you should never alter your integrity and standards for any one player. I think Connor Shaw would be fine with another summer of work. Do you agree letting him come back is extremely risky and could backfire in a bad way? Thanks.

Chris Low: Yes, I do I agree that it could backfire, although I think they’re still a ways off from making any decision on whether Garcia will be allowed to come back. Clearly, Garcia has some issues he needs to deal with that go above and beyond football. I’ve said many times that he’s a tough guy and showed marked improvement last season until those last two games. I’m just not sure he’s the kind of leader that you need at the quarterback position to win a championship. More importantly, Spurrier isn’t sold, either, and was over Garcia’s lack of commitment and focus a long time ago. I don’t think any of us have seen enough of Shaw to know whether he’s ready to lead South Carolina back to the SEC championship game. I know Spurrier likes him and likes the way he goes about his business. But if you send Garcia packing for good and Shaw gets hurt or simply doesn’t play well, you’re sitting there with a really talented football team that has real issues at quarterback. So I see both sides of the equation, although I lean to the side that says Garcia has already used up all of his chances.

Brian in Texas writes: You listed several schools and their attendance numbers for the spring games but left out that Mississippi State had 36,000-plus. I know your partner grew up in Oxford and wouldn't want him to leave that out … not that I think he has any bias and would intentionally forget to add that tidbit.

Chris Low: Duly noted, Brian, and there’s no question that Dan Mullen has done a magnificent job in taking the interest in Mississippi State football to another level. He’s also raised expectations, which is what you want in this league. As for my partner (Edward), I was wondering how long it would take for somebody to mention that he grew up in the town where the “school up north” is located. The one thing you learn pretty quickly when you cover the SEC is that at some point you’re either branded as a homer or a hater of every school in the league. I’ll make a confession. I’m a homer of the Bearden Smokies’ 12-and-under youth baseball team and the kid who plays second base and left field on that team.

Ray in Birmingham, Ala., writes: Hey guys, do you think AJ McCarron, if he wins the starting quarterback job, could finally be the first 3,000-yard passer in Alabama history?

Chris Low: Greg McElroy came awfully close last season with a school-record 2,987 yards. McCarron has a much better arm than McElroy, but we’ll wait and see if he’s as productive as McElroy. I do think the Crimson Tide will be able to use more of the field with McCarron’s arm strength and throw the ball deep more. But McCarron still has to beat out Philip Sims, who’s made that race a close one this spring.