Proving ground: Western Division

With the start of the 2012 college football season less than two weeks away, let’s take a look at those players in the SEC who have the most to prove.

I’ll kick it off with five players in the West, and Edward will come back later today with five players in the East.

Keep in mind that there are all sorts of reasons why a player may have something to prove. Sometimes, it’s making that jump from a good player to a great player. Other times, it’s going from a hyped freshman to a key contributor, bouncing back from a so-so or injury-plagued season or simply filling some big shoes.

Here are five players in the West to watch. They’re listed alphabetically:

Josh Boyd, DT, Mississippi State: It’s Boyd’s time now to be the enforcer in the middle of that Mississippi State defensive line. He’s been a productive player the last couple of seasons, but with Fletcher Cox leaving early for the NFL, the Bulldogs need Boyd to step his game up more than ever in 2012. He has the physical tools to be an All-SEC player and one of the premier interior defensive linemen in the league.

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas: There’s still some mystery as to whether Davis is all the way back after missing all of last season with a fractured ankle. The Hogs have held him out of full contact work this preseason in scrimmages, although his teammates say he’s looked like his old self in everything else. Davis led all SEC running backs in rushing in 2010 with 1,322 yards. There’s no doubting his talent, determination and heart. He just has to go show it on the field … again.

Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama: From the day Kouandjio walked onto campus at Alabama, his teammates have raved about his pure physical ability. One of the most heralded prospects in the country two years ago, the 6-foot-6, 311-pound sophomore has been impressive enough that the Crimson Tide moved Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones to center to make room for Kouandjo at left tackle. That’s a lot of pressure for a first-time starter, but the feeling in and around the Alabama program is that he has a lot of game.

Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU: The Tigers were a consistent passing game away from winning the national championship last season. They think Mettenberger is the missing piece to the puzzle. He has a big arm and has been very impressive in both spring practice and preseason camp. He just doesn’t have any meaningful experience in SEC games. Coach Les Miles has said LSU will open up the passing game with Mettenberger at the helm. This is the second chance Mettenberger has been waiting for after getting in trouble at Georgia and being dismissed from the team earlier in his career.

Trovon Reed, WR, Auburn: Injuries have plagued Reed during his first two seasons on the Plains. He arrived with the reputation of being electric in the open field and the kind of player who can turn short passes into big gains. Auburn struggled to get anything going in the passing game a year ago, and with the uncertainty at quarterback going into this season, the Tigers are looking for as many playmakers as they can find on offense. They need Reed healthy and they need him to be the difference-maker everybody was convinced he was when they signed him.