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Joe Boozell | | July 13, 2016

SEC Media Day live updates, best moments from Hoover

Tuesday, July 12   *all times eastern

10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. — SEC Now: 2016 Football Media Days

Teams to appear: Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Texas A&M

Wednesday, July 13

10 a.m.-4 p.m. — SEC Now: 2016 Football Media Days

Teams to appear: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri

Thursday, July 14

10 a.m.-1 p.m. — SEC Now: 2016 Football Media Days

Teams to appear: LSU, Ole Miss, South Carolina

Live streaming of SEC Media Days is available via Watch ESPN.

South Carolina first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is at his fifth Southeastern Conference school, having worked on staffs at Ole Miss, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida.

Kevin Steele, Auburn's new defensive coordinator, is at his fourth SEC locale after previous stops at Tennessee, Alabama and LSU. New Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is at his fourth SEC school as well, having called Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee home, while it's the third league stop for first-year Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone following stints at Ole Miss and Auburn.

Steele actually had two coaching stops at Alabama, as did Mazzone at Ole Miss.

Bringing in or bringing back the familiar was the theme of the SEC's offseason hires, as 10 of the 14 members made at least one change at coordinator. The SEC's three new head coaches -- Georgia's Kirby Smart, Missouri's Barry Odom and South Carolina's Will Muschamp -- worked last year in the league as defensive coordinators.

"It's the best league in the country, and you know you have to bring your best every week," Odom said. "There are 24 hours in a day, and other coaches are spending it just like you are. It's an opportunity that you live for."

Hype for the upcoming season will intensify as the annual SEC media days event takes place Monday through Thursday in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover.

MORE: Guide to the season's best games each week

Arkansas, Florida, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt were the SEC schools that did not change a coordinator after last season. Only Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State didn't make changes following the 2014 season.

Smart, Odom and Muschamp give the SEC six head coaches who previously were coordinators in the league, with that trio joining Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Florida's Jim McElwain and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen.

"A lot of guys in our conference get opportunities, and it really speaks to the quality of coaches that this conference can attract," said McElwain, who was Alabama's offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide's 2009 and '11 national championship teams. "It makes for offseason studies to be kind of nuts, because you're breaking down film and it's not even a team you're playing.

"It's some guy's offense or defense from somewhere else, but that makes it kind of fun.

Muschamp doesn't need any help in getting around the SEC, having played at Georgia and having served one stint as LSU's defensive coordinator and two as Auburn's defensive coordinator. He is getting his second head-coaching opportunity in the league, having guided Florida to a 28-21 record from 2011 to 2014.

"It's one thing to coach in this league, and it's another to recruit," Muschamp said, "and I think that's what makes our league a little different. There is a competitive edge you have to have on the recruiting trail. It's very intense, and it's 365 days a year, and I think that separates our league a little bit from other leagues."

RELATED: Top returning QBs | Top returning RBs

Alabama coach Nick Saban didn't hesitate in replacing Smart, his defensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa since 2008, with Jeremy Pruitt as the successor. Pruitt spent the past two seasons as Georgia's defensive coordinator but was Alabama's 2010-12 secondary coach.

That familiarity has made for an easy transition, according to Saban, but Malzahn chose to hire someone he had faced in the rugged Western Division by landing Steele after the latter's one season in Baton Rouge.

"He's got unbelievable experience in our league, which I think is very important," Malzahn said. "Our defensive coaches have really responded well to him."

Of the SEC's 13 new coordinators this season, 10 have prior experience within the league. The exceptions are Missouri's new duo of Josh Heupel and DeMontie Cross and LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

Heupel has spent most of his coaching career at Oklahoma, his alma mater, while Cross played at Mizzou during its Big 12 years and has been TCU's linebackers coach the past three seasons.

Aranda has been defensive coordinator at Hawaii, Utah State and, most recently, Wisconsin. He is LSU's third defensive coordinator in as many years, replacing Steele, who succeeded John Chavis, the second-year defensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

"I interviewed Dave, and he was the best interview by far," LSU head coach Les Miles said. "We liked Steele, and he knew the SEC and was an advantage that way, but when we lost him we wanted to go get the best. Dave was being pursued by several, and we're fortunate he chose the Tigers."

Running backs reigned supreme in college football last season. Alabama’s Derrick Henry captured the Heisman, and his biggest competition was Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, one of the best combinations of running and receiving we’ve ever seen. That doesn’t even take into account Leonard Fournette at LSU, who is more physically impressive than both of them.

So if you like smash mouth football, well, the guys below are probably a cut above your tastes. Sorry. These players are game breakers, capable of taking a simple toss 80 yards to the end zone.

With that in mind, here are eight of the best returning running backs in college football.


Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

Many thought McCaffrey deserved the Heisman Trophy in 2015, but he’ll have another crack at the award in 2016.

Kevin Hogan is gone, so the Cardinal will need to rely on the run more than ever. Let’s just say they’re in good hands.

McCaffrey rushed for 2,019 yards in 2015, and he’s a lethal receiving weapon out of the backfield. The junior-to-be caught 45 balls for 645 yards last season, and at 6-1, he could easily be one of the best wide receivers in college football if he wasn’t so special as a running back.

McCaffrey has plenty of style to go with his substance.

Fournette looked like he had the Heisman wrapped up in the middle of last season, but ultimately, LSU went in a tailspin and the stud rusher couldn’t recover. Still, that doesn’t take anything away from Fournette’s 2015 campaign, or what he should do in 2016.

Often facing eight defenders in the box, No. 7 in purple and yellow averaged more yards per carry (6.5) than McCaffrey or Henry. His 24 rushing touchdowns ranked fourth in the country, only behind Henry, Keenan Reynolds and Ezekiel Elliott.

That’s some good company.

Dalvin Cook, Florida State

Cook isn’t being put in the same class as guys like McCaffrey and Fournette, but by the end of this season, it’s easy to envision him getting there.

Of the nation’s top-nine rushers in 2015, the Florida State speedster was the only one to average more than seven yards per carry. He also had the lowest amount of attempts of any player in the top 10 (229), but still managed to run for 1,691 yards, good for sixth in the country.

Cook is dynamic coming out of the backfield, too, having caught more than 20 passes in each of his last two seasons. Expect him to see more action in the passing game this year given Florida State’s uncertainty at the quarterback spot.

Royce Freeman, Oregon

It’s tempting to think you or I could run for 1,500 yards in Oregon’s offense, but Freeman is a special player.

RELATED: Top returning college football quarterbacks

It’s clear that Freeman was more than just a product of Marcus Mariota’s greatness. As the featured back in the Ducks’ offense a year ago, the then-sophomore scampered for 1,836 yards, finishing fourth in college football. He racked up 17 touchdowns, too, and constantly kept the sticks moving for Oregon.

Freeman rushed for more than 100 yards in his final nine games of 2015. That tells you his best is yet to come.

Wayne Gallman, Clemson

Deshaun Watson gets a ton of publicity at Clemson, and rightfully so. But don’t sleep on the guy who lines up behind him in the pistol formation.

Gallman is relentless. He seeks out contact, and he’s willing to go one-on-one against a linebacker in order to get a first down. Gallman generally wins that battle.

The upcoming junior struggled against Alabama in the national championship game, but in the two games prior, he ran for 337 yards and three scores in huge outings against North Carolina and Oklahoma.

Gallman isn’t a huge factor in the passing game, but given the Tigers’ depth and star-power at the receiver spot, does he really need to be? Probably not. He just needs to keep plunging past the goal line for touchdowns, and he’s elite in that regard.

Elijah Hood, North Carolina

After an ugly season-opening loss against South Carolina last season, people forget that the Tar Heels were absolutely magnificent in 2015. Specifically, their offense was absolutely magnificent. And Hood was their best offensive player.

College football in 2015 was the year of the running back. From Derrick Henry to Christian McCaffrey to Leonard Fournette, there was no shortage of stud running backs scampering across your TV screen on Saturday afternoons in the fall.

2016 promises more of the same in that respect, but there are several quarterbacks to get excited about, too. There are pure passers, dual threats, electrifying runners – you name it, this crop of signal callers has it.

Here are nine FBS quarterbacks to watch in 2016.

Deshaun Watson, Clemson

Watson was one of three Heisman trophy finalists in 2015 and earned the most votes among quarterbacks for the award by a mile. And for good reason.

The Tigers QB threw for 4,104 yards and tossed 35 touchdown passes in comparison to 13 interceptions. His 8.36 yards per attempt mark was sparkling, and none of this takes into account his gifts as a runner.

RELATED: 2016 Maxwell Award watch list

When the games got more and more important in 2015, Watson turned on the jets. He rushed for more than 100 yards in five of his final seven games; he hadn’t topped the 100-yard threshold all season prior to that stretch. He almost went full 2006 Vince Young in the national championship game, but came up just short against Alabama.

Expect Watson to be hungrier than ever in 2016.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Pure magic. Those two words capably describe Mayfield’s inaugural season as QB1 at Oklahoma, and he’s back for more in 2016.

Mayfield’s 9.4 yards per attempt ranked fourth in the country in 2015; that mark is the second-best among returning quarterbacks. For what Mayfield lacks in arm strength and size, he more than makes up for in intelligence and creativity.

The junior only threw seven interceptions last season compared to 36 touchdowns, and he was constantly escaping pressure and extending plays with his legs:

Mayfield is a joy to watch on the gridiron, and he could lead Oklahoma to glory once again in 2016.

J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

The reason for optimism with Barrett is his unprecedented run in 2014. Two seasons ago, he lit up the Big Ten to the tune of 2,834 passing yards, 34 passing touchdowns, 938 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.

Had it not been for injury, there’s a good chance Barrett would have been the starter on a national champion in 2014. In 2015, he struggled. By his standards, anyway.

But now, the stage is Barrett’s. Cardale Jones is off to the NFL, as are several of Ohio State’s best offensive weapons. If there’s going to be a star donning the scarlet and gray this season, it will have to be Barrett.

QB Brad Kaaya, Miami

Kaaya hasn’t put up the type of numbers the previous three quarterbacks on this list have, but it’s hard not to fall in love with his physical attributes.

At 6-4, 210 pounds with a rocket arm and nimble feet, there is plenty to like about Kaaya. He’s going to be playing in Mark Richt’s system now, too, which has produced NFL-caliber quarterbacks such as Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray.

And it’s not as though his numbers weren’t good last season, but Hurricanes fans would have liked to have seen more improvement between his freshman and sophomore campaigns. Kaaya cut down on his interceptions (12 in his freshman year; just five as a sophomore), but he threw 10 less touchdown passes in 2015 than in 2014. His yards per attempt also dipped.

Still, the promise with Kaaya is so obvious. Perhaps he just needs a new offensive mind to unlock his potential.

Josh Rosen, UCLA

‘The Rosen One’ showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman, but also made his fair share of rookie blunders.

There were the highs against Virginia:

And the lows against BYU, a game in which he threw three picks and barely topped 100 yards. Rosen might be the best pure passer in college football. He just needs to be more consistent, and that will likely come as a sophomore.

Luke Falk, Washington State

Perhaps the most underrated quarterback in college football last season, Falk was a revelation for the Cougars. In his second season as a starter, Falk finished fifth in the nation in passing while Wazzu won nine games.

Falk threw a whopping 644 times last season and was only picked off eight times. That was good for a 1.2 interception percentage, one of the top figures in the nation among all qualified passers. If Washington State builds on its 2015 success, don’t be surprised to see Falk sneak in on some All-American discussions.

Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Jackson is the anti-Falk, in a way. Unpolished as a passer, the Louisville QB impacts the game in other ways. When the best athlete on the field is also the quarterback, that generally spells trouble for defenses.

Jackson had games of 121, 184, 186 and 226 rushing yards as a freshman – the latter two came in his last two outings, including a Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M.

The Cardinals’ signal caller only completed 54.7 percent of his passes last season, but he’s certainly dangerous as a thrower. He finished with 307 yards through the air against a vicious Florida State defense, and he showed flashes against Texas A&M, as well.

Jackson is a game breaker. If he improves marginally as a passer, he’s going to be one of the most fun players to watch in college football.

Chad Kelly, Ole Miss

In a conference that values stout defense and smash mouth football, Kelly is the exception to the rule in the SEC. The Rebel QB will lose LaQuon Treadwell, but he’s got more than enough to work with in Oxford.

Kelly finished 10th in the nation in passing yards in 2015, and he was efficient in doing so, completing 65.1 percent of his passes and averaging just a shade below nine yards per attempt.

Kelly showed up in some of Ole Miss’ biggest games last year, too. In a 43-37 win over Alabama, he threw for 341 yards and three scores. In the team’s Sugar Bowl win against Oklahoma State, the uber-talented quarterback finished with 302 yards and four touchdowns. Expect Kelly to take another leap in 2016.

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