Proving ground: Western Division

Edward has already unveiled the five players in the East who have the most to prove in 2012.

Now, it’s on to the West:

1. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU: Mettenberger finally gets his chance to lead a team in the SEC. He’s persevered through adversity. He’s got a big arm, and he understands what he’s up against when it comes to SEC defenses. The Tigers are counting on Mettenberger making them more balanced on offense with his ability to throw the ball down the field and keep defenses from loading up against the run. LSU is plenty talented enough to be right back in the BCS National Championship Game in 2012. The only thing the Tigers were missing a year ago was a consistent passing game when it counted most. That’s where Mettenberger comes in.

2. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas: If anybody can make it all the way back from three fractured ankles, it’s Davis. He was pushing to play at the end of last season and now insists that he’s 100 percent healthy. He was clocked this offseason at 4.33 in the 40-yard dash and is one of the Hogs’ strongest players. There simply aren’t many running backs that combine Davis’ blend of speed, power and strength. His biggest hurdle may be mental, which is why Arkansas plans to get him some live contact in preseason camp. Everybody will be watching to see if he can get back to his 2010 form when he led all SEC running backs with 1,322 rushing yards.

3. Trovon Reed, WR, Auburn: Trooper Taylor, Auburn’s receivers coach, once referred to Reed as a limousine with no gas. From the day Reed signed with the Tigers, he’s been pegged as one of those playmakers in space that gives every defensive coordinator nightmares. The only problem is that Reed has battled injuries each of his first two years on the Plains. He sat out his first season with a knee injury and was plagued by a shoulder injury last season as a redshirt freshman. He’s yet to score a touchdown for the Tigers, who are going to need more firepower from the receiver position in 2012. Emory Blake won’t be able to do it by himself.

4. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: With the Aggies moving to the SEC in 2012, it’s imperative that they man up in the defensive line. Moore is the most talented of the group, but he’s moving from a hybrid outside linebacker position in Texas A&M’s old 3-4 setup to defensive end in Mark Snyder’s new 4-3 scheme. Moore has shown in the past that he can get to the quarterback and make big plays. He led the Big 12 last season with 17.5 tackles for loss. The Aggies are counting on him to be more than just a pass-rusher this coming season. And while Moore won’t be the biggest defensive end in the league, he’ll need to play big in every game if the Aggies are going to hold their own up front.

5. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: It’s safe to say that McCarron has already proved himself on a big stage. He was outstanding last season in the BCS title game win over LSU with his poise, decision-making and accuracy. The Crimson Tide did a nice job of not putting too much on McCarron’s shoulders during the season. That’s going to change some as he enters his junior season. Alabama will look to stretch the field more in 2012. McCarron has an NFL-caliber arm, and teams will gear their defenses more to stop him in 2012. We’ll see if he can pick up where he left off in New Orleans and sustain that level of play for the entire season.