Greeson: Five SEC newcomers to watch

Greeson: Five SEC newcomers to watch

June 29th, 2010 by Jay Greeson in Opinion Columns

Admit it, about this time every year the itch starts.

The magazines are at Bi-Lo. The television options for those turning to this section first thing in the morning are limited. Sure, the Braves against rookie Stephen Strasburg made for appointment viewing Monday night, but more times than not arguably the best offering is a college football replay.

It's tough. In an effort to bridge the gap, every Tuesday until practice starts we will spend this space looking ahead to the 2010 college football season. If you believe college football should be relegated to the fall, well, you have my permission to peruse the rest of today's Sports section. For the other 96 percent of you, well, let's get started.

Today's topic: Top five SEC newcomers stepping into the biggest spotlight.

Let's start with a brief clarification: Florida quarterback John Brantley may have bigger shoes to fill replacing do-it-all Tim Tebow, but Brantley is hardly a newcomer. Same can be said for super-talented Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who steps into the spot vacated by Rolando McClain. No, the guys on today's list were not involved in SEC action a year ago.

* Demarcus Milliner, Alabama: The Crimson Tide are loaded for a run at a second consecutive national title, but there are openings in the secondary, and Milliner has the size and the speed to play now. Three starters -- including both cornerbacks -- are gone from last year's defensive backfield, so if Milliner is as good as his five-star ranking coming out of high school, he will get his chance.

* Michael Dyer, Auburn: The nation's top-ranked high school running back a year ago according to ESPN, Dyer has the goods. Much like Milliner, there will an almost immediate chance for Dyer to test those skills. Auburn must replace Ben Tate and his more than 1,300 rushing yards in 2009. Enter Dyer, the state of Arkansas' all-time high school rushing leader and Auburn's highest-ranked running back recruit since Stephen Davis in the early 1990s.

* Aaron Murray, Georgia: Yes, Murray is a redshirt freshman, so he's not completely a newcomer. But he did not get on the field last season, and wow, the situation he's inheriting in Athens puts an awful lot on him. He won the starting job in the spring over Logan Gray, who will spend some time at receiver this season, and Zach Mettenberg, who will spend all his time away from the program after being dismissed from the team. That leaves Murray, and well, Murray. Hey, on the bright side, he's got a lot of room for error because there are not a whole lot of options.

* Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: Lattimore and Dyer were the top running backs of last year's recruiting class, depending on which ranking you checked. That said, Lattimore is stepping into one of those extremely difficult situations of the in-state star coming to rescue the in-state school. Lattimore's scenario is somewhat comparable to Herschel Walker going to Georgia in the late 1970s and Emmitt Smith heading to Florida in the '80s. If his career is anything close to those two guys, we'll have to call it a success, huh?

* Derek Dooley, Tennessee: The first-year Volunteers coach has some time, certainly. The mess left by Lane Kiffin's and much of his staff's sudden departure to Southern California has allowed Dooley a grace period, but the eyes of the fans, recruits and rival schools are watching. Closely.

This is Tennessee, after all -- a power program in the nation's power conference. And while success may not be entirely judged by the win-loss record in year one A.L (After Lane), there still are expectations to be met.

In fact, Jimmy Cheek, the University of Tennessee chancellor, said Monday the academic side of UT would be getting $1 million from the athletic department. The lion's share of that coin would be coming from UT's cut of the SEC's megadollar television deal, but the reason for excess in a time of economic uncertainty is hardly a mystery. And if football flounders in Knoxville, there won't be extra for other departments for very long.

Football drives the train in college sports across the nation in general and in the South in particular. Why would we spend a Tuesday in June talking about it otherwise?