We here at Dawgsports are keeping our eye on the ball (as well as the balance beam) this recruiting season, but that shouldn't stop us from taking the occasional peek forward to 2008. Kickoff is after all only 219 days away.
And when toe meets leather come August, you'll want to know your enemy. While recruiting coverage is part of that, let's face it, it's a very small part. While there may be a handfull of true freshman contributors every season, the backbone of an SEC football team is usually its seniors. They are the leaders. The ones who make a play when one just has to be made (pause to reflect on the singular brilliance of Tony Taylor . . . ok, moving on), and the ones who make sure your team is in the right frame of mind to beat the potato salad out of your opponent.
That's why in addition to keeping up with who's walking in the door, we are also trying to keep track of who's walking out. Especially the ones who are leaving early. ESPN has a handy tracker that will update you on who's leaving early for the NFL. The early results indicate that 2008 is going to be another bruising year in the SEC.
A surprisingly small number of high caliber SEC players are leaving early. DE Derrick Harvey is leaving Florida, but the Gators hold onto wide receiver Louis Murphy and tight end Cornelius Ingram. Earl Bennett is checking out of Vanderbilt. But LSU is keeping a boatload of talented juniors, including Marlon Favorite, Tyson Jackson, Darry Beckwith, Herman Johnson and Curtis Taylor. Arian Foster is staying in Knoxville, but linebacker Jerod Mayo is going pro. Auburn loses hole-plugging defensive tackle Pat Sims, but holds onto wide receiver Rod Smith. Perhaps the biggest departures are Arkansas tailback tandem Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, who will each take their talents to the NFL.
I think the generally small number can be traced to two phenomena. One is that the SEC was very, very young this season. Georgia, Florida and Auburn in particular started and played double digit numbers of freshmen. The second phenomenon, which is something of an outgrowth of the first, is that a lot of the juniors and redshirt sophomores who used to play in place of true freshmen are now sharing time with them. That means they don't really have the numbers to make the leap confidently. All in all, I think this is very positive for the conference. But I would feel a lot better about our trip to Baton Rouge next year if some of those guys were leaving.
And I have to admit, I did sort of chuckle upon learning that the two Arkansas tailbacks were leaving. The only thing that would make me happier would be to see the Falcons end up with both of them. Because that would be irony at its finest.