The SEC lately has dominated the recruiting rankings almost as thoroughly as it has ruled the national title chase.
Eight SEC schools ranked among the nation's top 19 teams in the 2012 recruiting rankings: No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Florida, No. 10 Auburn, No. 12 Georgia, No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 17 Tennessee, No. 18 LSU and No. 19 South Carolina. Ole Miss and Kentucky were the only SEC teams to rank outside the top 35.
So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the SEC has plenty of true freshmen and junior-college transfers ready to make instant contributions this fall. Heck, even defending national champion Alabama has two junior-college transfers challenging for featured roles in the secondary.
Perhaps no freshmen could mean more to the SEC race than Georgia's Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Georgia heads into the season as the East Division favorite, but the Bulldogs won't get to Atlanta unless they find a consistent running back. Of all the candidates in Georgia's backfield, Gurley and Marshall offer the most potential.
SEC newcomers likely will make the biggest impact at wide receiver. Of course, it starts with Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation's No. 1 overall prospect. But even though Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson, South Carolina's Shaq Roland and Florida's Latroy Pittman didn't quite make our list, they all could have productive seasons.
DE Denico Autry DE Austin Flynn Particulars: Autry: 6-5/255; East Mississippi Community College. Flynn: 6-5/260; Los Angeles Harbor College Recruiting ratings: Autry: Four stars (No. 2 junior college prospect in 2012 class). Flynn: Three stars (No. 45 junior college prospect in 2012 class). Buzz: Although these two guys play on different teams, we're including them as a package item because both are former junior-college defensive ends who should come in and contribute right away. Autry recorded 11 sacks and 41 quarterback hurries to earn All-America honors last season as he led East Mississippi to a National Junior College Athletic Association title. He received offers from the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Texas and USC. He already is listed atop Mississippi State's depth chart at defensive end. Flynn wasn't rated as high as Autry during the recruiting process, but he collected 11 sacks and 16 tackles for loss last season. Flynn's pass-rushing skills should come in handy as Arkansas attempts to replace Jake Bequette, who compiled a team-high 10 sacks last season.
CB Deion Belue Particulars: 5-11/179; Northeast Mississippi Community College Recruiting rating: Three stars Buzz: Alabama has plenty of holes to fill in the secondary following the departures of first-round draft picks Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick plus fifth-round selection De'Quan Menzie. The losses of Kirkpatrick and Menzie leave Alabama looking for two new starting cornerbacks. Junior Dee Milliner will fill one of those positions, but the other spot remains up for grabs. Likely candidates include Belue and junior John Fulton. Belue helped his cause by enrolling early and participating in spring practice. Travell Dixon of Eastern Arizona Junior College also could emerge as a factor in Alabama's secondary. Another Alabama newcomer who bears watching is freshman running back T.J. Yeldon, a five-star recruit who had an outstanding spring game.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham Particulars: 6-6/220; Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest Recruiting rating: Five stars (No. 1 overall prospect in 2012 class) Buzz: One year ago, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney signed with South Carolina as the nation's No. 1 overall prospect and wasted no time showing he could produce at the SEC level. Missouri would love to see Green-Beckham make a similar impact on the other side of the ball. Green-Beckham announced his college choice on Signing Day and therefore didn't participate in spring practice, but his extraordinary physical gifts should allow him to catch on right away. Green-Beckham accumulated 6,353 receiving yards and 75 touchdown catches in his high school career, including 119 receptions for 2,233 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior. Green-Beckham isn't the only new SEC receiver who could make an impact. Florida's Latroy Pittman and South Carolina's Shaq Roland also are capable of big seasons and play for teams that are in major need of impact wideouts.
RBs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall Particulars: Gurley: 6-1/195; Tarboro (N.C.). Marshall: 5-11/190; Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook Recruiting ratings: Gurley: Four stars (No. 5 running back and No. 42 overall prospect in 2012 class). Marshall: Four stars (No. 2 all-purpose back and No. 48 overall prospect in 2012 class). Buzz: Now that Isaiah Crowell has been dismissed from the team, Georgia has plenty of uncertainty at running back. The No. 1 option at this point is fifth-year senior Richard Samuel, but he never has rushed for more than 395 yards in a season. Gurley and Marshall lack Samuel's experience, but they offer more upside. Gurley played on three consecutive state championship teams at Tarboro and capped his high school career by rushing for 242 yards and four touchdowns in a state final. Marshall rushed for 4,552 yards in his high school career. Marshall also enrolled early and participated in spring practice.
QB Bo Wallace Particulars: 6-5/210; East Mississippi Community College Recruiting rating: Three stars (No. 46 junior college prospect in 2012 recruiting class) Buzz: Wallace is competing with junior Barry Brunetti for the right to open the season as Ole Miss' starting quarterback. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze indicated at SEC Media Days referred to them as "co-No. 1" quarterbacks at SEC Media Days last month and indicated it wouldn't surprise him if the competition extends to the first few weeks of the season. Wallace set NJCAA records for passing yards (4,604), total yards (4,810) and touchdown passes (53) last season to earn All-America honors while leading East Mississippi to a national title. He originally signed with Arkansas State out of Pulaski (Tenn.) Giles County High School, but he redshirted in 2010 and transferred after the season.