Inside the SEC: Football stars will shine brightly this fall

Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 1:03am
Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno should be one of the SEC's brightest stars this fall. SECSports.com

Four of the top 10 picks in this year’s NFL Draft were Southeastern Conference players, but the cupboard is far from bare in the SEC for the 2008 season.

Plenty of star power will be on display around the league, from reigning Heisman Trophy-winning Florida quarterback Tim Tebow to young players such as Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno, who could become one of the best the SEC has ever seen.

NFL teams raid the SEC for talent each year, but the conference simply reloads and stays at the fore of college football. This is a machine we’re talking about.

Consider: In 2007, 11 SEC players were first-round draft picks, the most of any conference. No problem. In 2008, four of the top 10 picks came from the SEC. Since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 1992, an average of 6.19 SEC players per year have been drafted in the first round.

It should be no different this fall. The SEC features a bevy of superstars whose skills you don’t want to miss.

It starts with Tebow, who in 2007 became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. Could he win two? Or even three? Nothing seems out of the realm of possibility, especially in light of the talent surrounding him.

That brings us to Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin, regarded by some as the best player in the SEC last season. He lines up in a variety of spots and touches the ball in many different ways, each designed to utilize his world-class speed.

Harvin is simply one of the most explosive players the SEC has seen in years. A YouTube highlight reel of him must be seen to be believed.

Staying in the SEC East, keep your eyes on Moreno this fall. As a freshman last season, he rushed for 1,334 yards, the second-highest ever for a Bulldog rookie, behind only Herschel Walker.

I wrote this last year and I’ll say it again: In my days of watching football, there have been three players who made me sit up straight in my chair the first time I saw them play: Troy Aikman of UCLA, Michael Vick of Virginia Tech and Moreno.

This guy has special talent and should go down as one of the SEC’s all-time greats.

Show me a conference with three more dynamic offensive skill players than the SEC has in Tebow, Moreno and Harvin. It can’t be done.

On the defensive side of the ball in the SEC Eastern Division, keep your eyes on Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore and Tennessee safety Eric Berry. Both defensive backs could be long gone to the NFL before their senior seasons roll around.

Moore tied for the SEC with six interceptions, was a dangerous kickoff returner and even played some offense last season. Berry had five picks, including one for a 96-yard touchdown against Florida, and is destined to be an all-time UT great.

You want top-notch offensive line play? Look no further than Alabama, which features tackle Andre Smith and center Antoine Caldwell, perhaps the best tandem in the nation. Smith is an Outland Trophy contender and future NFL star.

Arkansas believes it has the nation’s premier center in Anthony Luigs, while Ole Miss left tackle Michael Oher also ranks highly on the national scale.

There are plenty of others worth watching, too, including Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy, South Carolina wide receiver Kenny McKinley, Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, LSU linebacker Darry Beckwith, Florida tight end Cornelius Ingram and Kentucky cornerback Trevard Lindley.

Those are just a few who caught my eye last season. There will be plenty more this fall.

In the SEC, there always is.

Brett Hait covers Vanderbilt and the Southeastern Conference for The City Paper. He can be reached at bhait@nashvillecitypaper.com.

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