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August 30, 2012

SEC: Top prospects running out of time

MORE: Rivals100 | Rivals250

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

It is generally considered a positive when a football team returns six of seven key contributors on the offensive line. That may not be the cause for the Florida Gators, as Will Muschamp's team is coming off of a season in which the team nearly had as many sacks allowed (23) as touchdowns scored (30).

This situation was not what the Gators had in mind when they signed prep stars James Wilson and Xavier Nixon.

Wilson was the No. 12 overall player in the Class of 2007 and the top-ranked offensive guard in the country; Nixon was the No. 37 overall player in the Class of 2009 and the third-ranked offensive tackle.

Rivals.com takes a conference-by-conference look back at former highly rated prospects from each team who need to start justifying their hype.
TuesdayBig 12
WednesdayBig Ten, Pac-12
FridayBig East/ND/Others

Neither have lived up to the expectations that came with their lofty rankings, and now Florida needs each to do their part on the left side of an offensive line that was unable to consistently protect the quarterback last season.

The pair headlines a group of high school standouts that have yet to make their presence felt since arriving in the SEC.

Bryan Holt covers the team for InsideTheGators.com and said that the careers of Nixon and Wilson have not lived up to expectations.

"Wilson and Nixon both came in with huge expectations," he said. "Both were members of the Rivals100 and guys fans expected to contribute right away.

"Wilson had the added appeal of being a lineman Tim Tebow was familiar with from his high school days. Nixon lived up to those expectations at first, starting five games as a freshman. Wilson did not play."

While it's fair to consider both players a disappointment up to this point in their careers, their opportunities have largely been limited due to injuries. It would not be accurate to suggest that Nixon or Wilson need to redeem themselves this fall.

"A productive 2012 would iron out the previous issues of their UF careers because so much of their troubles have been because of injury," he said. "If they were having off-field issues or a notable lack of effort, the word 'redeem' would be more fitting this year."

As things stand now in Gainesville, with the season opener against Bowling Green just days away, Nixon and Wilson are slated to start at the positions for which they were recruited.

Like most every successful team, it will be important for the line to play well for the Gators.

"It's huge," he said. "The ideal offensive line the Gators would like to run, Wilson and Nixon would start on the left side.

"The left side of Florida's line got John Brantley regularly obliterated last year, and if the same starts happening this year, Will Muschamp will be forced to turn to either less noteworthy names or freshmen at left tackle and left guard. He can't afford to put out a shaky offensive line with two sophomore quarterbacks in this conference."

The Gators will get their first real chance to evaluate Nixon and Wilson early in September, as the team opens conference play on Sept. 8 against Texas A&M in College Station.

Below is a look at the other former top prospects who need to step up in the SEC. (Click player's name for a look at his prospect profile coming out of high school):

Player: DeAndrew White, wide receiver. Ranked No. 73 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2010.
Buzz: White was pushed to the background by a group of reliable receivers, limiting him to 11 catches and 151 yards to date. Entering this season, without Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Brad Smelly on the roster, there are some questions as to which players will emerge for Alabama and White could be a sneaky pick to shine. He is still an explosive athlete that has shown flashes of what made him a Rivals100 member, and he may now have his opportunity.

Player: Darius Winston, cornerback. Ranked No. 24 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2009.
Buzz: Winston was part of a tremendous cornerback class in 2009 but has yet to make a major impact at Arkansas. In three seasons he has totaled just 26 solo tackles and one interception. Winston is coming out of camp atop the depth chart and, with one year remaining, he can still reach his potential.

Player: Jeffrey Whitaker, defensive tackle. Ranked No. 54 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2010.
Buzz: If this were a spot for a pure bust then DeAngelo Benton would have it locked up by a mile, but this spot is for a player with a chance to shine. Whitaker has contributed a little in each of his first two seasons on the field but has not come close to displaying the game-changing ability that most fans expected upon arrival. He looks to start at defensive tackle this year and could break out.

Player: Richard Samuel, running back. Ranked No. 24 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2008.
Buzz: It may not be Samuel's fault he is in this spot. When he arrived at Georgia as an athlete, the team started him at running back, then redshirted him a season and moved him to linebacker and then asked him to move back to running back again. With a worrisome situation in the Georgia backfield, Samuel could split time as the feature back and, if the coaches ask, at fullback. His contribution this year could be much higher than the last three.

Player: Aaron Boyd, wide receiver. No. 40-ranked wide receiver in Class of 2008.
Buzz: Boyd was the top-ranked player in the state of Kentucky and chose to stay home and play in Lexington and, so far, it has not gone the way either side wanted. Most of the highly-rated players that UK has signed in the last several seasons have not worked out, and Boyd is one of the few that is still with the program. He is in a backup role right now and has been a bit of a disappointment for Cat fans.

Player: Russell Shepard, wide receiver. Ranked No. 7 overall in Class of 2009.
Buzz: The former five-star prospect has been maddening to follow for fans of the Bayou Bengals, and this is his last chance to showcase his talent in Baton Rouge. In his career, Shepard has 84 carries for 572 yards and four touchdowns as well as 52 catches for 473 yards. He would have likely been a better fit in a Rich Rodriguez-style offense, but is going to be lining up as a slot receiver this year with a chance to showcase his athletic gifts.

mississippi state
Player: Templeton Hardy, offensive line. No. 11-ranked defensive tackle in Class of 2008.
Buzz: Hardy was moved to the offensive side of the ball upon his arrival to Mississippi State and has been used in an extremely limited capacity. He suffered an elbow injury that limited his development and now an established unit in front of him may prevent him from playing much this season. Hardy is a top reserve up front and could make an impact on more than just special teams duty if given a chance.

Player: Jimmie Hunt, wide receiver. No. 43-ranked wide receiver in Class of 2010.
Buzz: For a bigger bust, Missouri fans will likely point to former Rivals100 player Nick Demien but since he is buried down the depth chart the spotlight for this piece goes to Hunt. Missouri has a pretty deep receiving group and Hunt has one career catch -- and that was against an FCS school -- but he has a better chance to proving that his four-stars were warranted where as Demien has been written off by most everyone in Columbia.

ole miss
Player: Carlos Thompson, defensive end. No. 175 overall in Rivals250 Class of 2010.
Buzz: When Thompson committed to Ole Miss many expected him to be the pass rushing specialist that the team had long coveted, but his body hasn't filled out as expected and he has not seen much time. Thompson has been re-energized with the arrival of Hugh Freeze and his staff, and the former four-star prospect seems to have embraced the idea of a new beginning. The Rebels need him to develop into the player the program thought it was getting.

south carolina
Player: Damario Jeffery, linebacker. No. 87 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2009.
Buzz: Jeffery, a local Columbia product, was expected to shine in front of the hometown crowd but he has tallied just 36 solo tackles in his two seasons on the field. This season he is in a position to make good on the early hype with an expanded role at the weakside linebacker position.

Player: Jacques Smith, defensive end. No. 80 overall in Rivals 100 Class of 2010.
Buzz: Smith arrived at Tennessee as the top-ranked prospect in the state and sixth-ranked defensive end in the nation. He was expected to be a playmaker, but has recorded just 2.5 sacks in two seasons. This year the Vols are moving to a 3-4 defense and Smith will be playing as an outside linebacker with his hand off the ground. It should make for a more natural fit for his skill set and allow him to make the kind of impact that many expected upon his arrival.

texas A&M
Player: Howard Matthews, safety. No. 237 overall in Rivals250 Class of 2011.
Buzz: Matthews was a player on the rise after starting a few games last season and ending the spring on the first unit, violation of team rules has slowed him down. It does look like Matthews will be on the sidelines for long, but his image took a bit of hit. He could use a solid performance this season to get everyone back on his bandwagon.
Player: Kyle Woestmann, defensive end. No. 49-ranked defensive tackle in Class of 2010.
Buzz: Woestmann may have been just a three-star prospect, but he was nationally ranked at his position and one of the highest-rated players in Vanderbilt's class that year. He needs a good year to keep his job as Caleb Azubike, a Rivals250 member, is breathing down his neck for the position. Woestmann held of Azubike on the team's initial depth chart, but will have to keep the spot by performing on the field.

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