SEC morning links

1. Tennessee needed some good news. And on Saturday, the Vols got some as Alton Howard returned to the football field after being absent from the program for spring practice and the start of fall camp. Now, “The past is the past,” Howard says. Let’s hope so. If Tennessee is going to be competitive this season, it’s going to need Howard to perform. Along with Marquez North and Marlin Lane, you’re looking at a good group of skill players on offense. Whoever starts at QB -- and that person could be named soon -- will need their help, especially when you consider the fact that there are no returning starters on the offensive line.

2. On Monday, Travis Haney gave you his four teams that should be in the top 25 of ESPN's Power Rankings. Among them was Mississippi State and Florida, which got me thinking: If we put them in the top 25, who from the SEC would we boot out? Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina aren't going anywhere. And though I'm not high on Georgia (where's the defense?) and LSU (how much can you really count on freshmen?), I'm not ready to throw them out, either. That, of course, leaves Ole Miss and Texas A&M. The Rebs are solid with good skill players on offense and a defense that goes two deep. Even though their O-line scares me, I wouldn't leave them unranked. I can't say the same for the Aggies. They look like LSU without the defense. I love the young wideouts and running backs, but who starts under center? And until I see a single three-and-out from Mark Snyder's bunch, I'm inclined to think last season wasn't a fluke. Things could change, but for now I'm not sold on the Aggies being ranked in the Top 25.

3. Andy Staples had a good story Monday on finding hidden gems on the recruiting trail. In it, he spotlighted Mississippi State linebacker Bernardrick McKinney. After seeing McKinney in person and talking to defensive coordinator Geoff Collins about him last fall, it's a wonder how anyone ever missed on him. But Staples' story reminded me of a conversation I had with Dan Mullen this spring. The gist of what he said was that not everyone can pretend to be Alabama and Florida -- top-tier programs that plug in five-star prospects with other, younger five-star prospects. "We don't get the pre-made guys," Mullen told me, citing Derrick Henry at Alabama. "We take a guy and develop them." With that, the hope is the cycle of turnover aligns every few years where a large group of upperclassmen are contributing. Mississippi State has that this year with a loaded defense and Dak Prescott under center. The question for teams like State -- programs like Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky -- is how they develop their young guys now and when their window of opportunity opens up down the road.

More around the SEC