SEC East notebook
FLORIDA: After two unproductive years at Florida, defensive lineman Lawrence Marsh is starting to do everything right. Well, almost everything.
Marsh emerged as the team’s best defensive tackle this fall and was rewarded with a starting spot this week. He will start at nose tackle Saturday when the fifth-ranked Gators host Hawaii.
“I was very excited,” Marsh said. “You think you’re going to start, but you don’t really know sometimes. Your play just takes care of it and if you just keep making plays during practice and keep working hard and the coaches start believing in you, then you know you’re going to start. When I was getting the coaches believing in me, I felt like I was good to go.”
Marsh, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound sophomore from Augusta, Ga., didn’t play his first year and hardly got off the bench last season — even though the Gators struggled to stop the run and pressure quarterbacks.
But things turned around for Marsh after he committed himself to the team’s offseason program and got considerably stronger. He also spent the spring and summer working on his footwork. The combination has him playing better than everyone else at his position.
Now, coach Urban Meyer just wants one more thing from him.
“Marsh, get a shave before Saturday,” Meyer told him this week.
“He’s really worked hard,” Meyer added. “If I can get him to shave, he’ll be much better. He’s had a great camp.”
GEORGIA: Quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno may be the biggest celebrities on the team since the combination of David Greene and David Pollack a few years back.
The two already were big stars in Athens. As Georgia has been a popular preseason No. 1 pick in national polls, the two have surfaced on many national magazines and TV interviews.
“They’re going to get that attention whether I like it or not or whether I’m comfortable with it or not,” said coach Mark Richt. “The question is whether they’re comfortable with it and can they manage it. Can they handle that type of attention?”
Richt said he doesn’t think Moreno and Stafford will have ego problems, but he says maintaining “just a little bit of privacy, a little bit of peace, a little bit of sanity” could be more difficult.
Stafford shrugged off questions about the preseason hype.
“We realize the only thing that matters is how we go out and prepare each week and how we go out and play,” he said.
KENTUCKY: It hasn’t taken freshman Randall Cobb long to make a fan of Kentucky coach Rich Brooks.
Cobb, who guided Alcoa (Tenn.) to consecutive Class AA titles as a dual-threat quarterback, was supposed to give the Wildcats some depth at wide receiver.
Things changed, however, when Brooks dismissed junior quarterback Curtis Pulley for a violation of team rules. Cobb has spent training camp splitting time at both positions and Brooks didn’t rule out throwing Cobb in the backfield against Louisville on Sunday if things don’t go well for starter Mike Hartline.
“There’s no plan,” Brooks said. “He’ll play at receiver and maybe punt returner. Whether he’ll play at quarterback and how much he’ll play, that remains to be seen. For being a freshman, I’d say he’s picked (up the offense) very well, but that doesn’t mean he has a total grasp of it.”
Brooks estimated Cobb has spent about 40 percent of his practice time running the second-string offense and spent the remaining time playing wide receiver with the starters. The Wildcats could use his athleticism to help the team’s depleted receiving corps that lost four of its top five pass catchers from a year ago.
SOUTH CAROLINA: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier enjoys playing Atlantic Coast Conference schools — just not all of them.
The Gamecocks open the season Thursday night against North Carolina State at Williams-Brice Stadium. They already have their annual rivalry with Clemson of the ACC that closes each season.
But Spurrier’s picked up games against other league opponents. Last year, South Carolina defeated North Carolina 21-15.
However, Spurrier remembers when he first arrived at South Carolina after the 2004 season and ACC champ Virginia Tech called looking for a game.
“I told coach (Frank) Beamer ‘I don’t think we need to play you guys right now,'” Spurrier recalled. “They’ve been sort of the top team in the ACC. Time will tell if they are again.”
Spurrier felt more comfortable matching up his building Southeastern Conference program with ACC teams in similar positions.
“We’re sort of the middle and the North Carolina schools have been in the middle. Who knows if they’ll go to the top or not,” Spurrier said. “I thought it was a pretty evenly matched game that the fans would like to see, so I certainly approved it.”
Frank Beamer’s son, Shane, is a defensive assistant on Spurrier’s staff at South Carolina.
TENNESSEE: Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer has a special place in his heart for UCLA as an opponent.
Fulmer, who grew up a Volunteer fan in Winchester, Tenn., played in wins against the Bruins as an offensive guard for the Vols in 1968 and 1970.
“I remember the whole series … but even before I was at Tennessee, I remember driving to the highest point in Winchester on a Saturday night to listen to the UCLA game on the radio,” he said.
Tennessee holds a 7-4 all-time record with UCLA with two ties. The teams have played at least twice in each decade.
Fulmer said there’s a reason the program likes to travel to the West Coast for such a high-profile game: It helps with recruiting.
“We’re one of those teams that has to go a lot of places to recruit, and with the BCS setup as it is, it gives us a chance to have a high-profile game and hopefully a win,” he said.
VANDERBILT: The mystery is over for the Commodores, and coach Bobby Johnson is going with senior Chris Nickson as his starting quarterback in the season opener against Miami (Ohio) over Mackenzi Adams. Johnson announced his decision after practice Tuesday.
“There was no magic moment,” Johnson said. “Chris is healthy and ready to go and confident. We expect him to play really well. If Mackenzi’s in the game, we expect him to play really well.”
Nickson started 18 straight games including all of the 2006 season and into the 2007 season before he struggled with a shoulder injury. Adams replaced Nickson for the final six games, including an upset over then-No. 6 South Carolina. Adams declined to talk about the decision.
Nickson said the coaches have confidence in himself as well as Adams.
“For playing purposes, they chose to start off with me. It’s a tremendous opportunity for me to go out and represent the team as Vanderbilt’s quarterback,” Nickson said.
Nickson shouldn’t get too comfortable, not with Vandy opening on the road Thursday night before returning home for the Southeastern Conference opener Sept. 4 against South Carolina. Johnson has made it clear he won’t hesitate to switch quarterbacks.
“If he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do, we’ll put somebody else in there that can do it right,” Johnson said.