Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

July 16, 2014

Star power lacking at SEC Media Days

HOOVER, Ala. — Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel insists there are still plenty of superstars in the Southeastern Conference.

The only problem is nobody’s heard of them yet.

One year after high-profile players such as Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel brought a rockstar feel to SEC Media Days, the buzz is largely missing this week at the league’s preseason showcase.

Part of the reason is a lack of experienced quarterbacks. McCarron, Manziel, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Georgia’s Aaron Murray are gone after impressive careers.

There are still some accomplished players in the league — especially at running back. Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley are among the nation’s best.

Driskel said it won’t be long before others become nationally known as well.

“Some of the guys haven’t put up the numbers or the championships that guys in the past have,” Driskel said. “But there’s always going to be talent in the SEC. It’s just a matter of who makes the plays this year. You get guys who end up being household names who weren’t at the beginning of the year.”

But the shadow of Manziel, McCarron and Co. still looms, even months after they played their last college game.

When Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin took the podium on Tuesday afternoon, two of the first three questions he received were about Johnny Football.

After the second one, an amused Sumlin said “Is this the SEC Media Days?”

The Aggies are one of several teams moving on without their stars. They had three players selected in the first round of the NFL draft — which left gaping holes at quarterback, offensive tackle and receiver — but Sumlin said that’s just part of the challenge of the college game.

“In college football, every two, three years you’re going to have turnover and you have to have a plan for that,” Sumlin said. “Whether it’s quarterback, whether it’s a great defender, whatever it is. To me that’s what’s exciting about college football.”

That might be true eventually, but right now it means there are a lot of unknowns.

Arguably the league’s most recognizable quarterback — Auburn’s Nick Marshall — didn’t come to media days after being cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Mississippi’s Bo Wallace is the only returning quarterback in the league who threw for at least 2,000 yards last season.

Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Driskel are among the most intriguing breakout candidates at quarterback.

Prescott threw for 1,940 yards last season and rushed for 829 more as a sophomore despite missing two games because of injuries. Driskel had a promising season in 2012 before missing much of last year with a leg injury.

Prescott said the SEC’s loss of so many star players won’t hurt the quality of the league.

“Those guys were unknown at some point, too, so that’s just part of the game,” Prescott said. “It leaves the door open for guys to step up and get their name out there.”

The strength of the league might be at running back, where veterans like Yeldon, Gurley and South Carolina’s Mike Davis return for another season. All three averaged around 100 yards per game during their sophomore seasons and scored at least 10 touchdowns.

But there’s a good chance some of the league’s best players — along with the league’s best teams — are relative unknowns right now.

“Nobody picked Missouri and Auburn to win the divisions last year,” South Carolina Steve Spurrier said. “That’s why we play the game. We don’t know who’s going to win ‘em.”

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