Alabama Crimson Tide: Kentucky

SEC lunchtime links

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
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Hungry for football already? Remember that Ohio takes on Bowling Green and Buffalo goes toe-to-toe with Toledo tonight.

SEC Week 11: Did you know?

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
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Did you know it's already Week 11 of the college football season? Of course you did.

But were you aware that Saturday might be the last time Johnny Manziel plays in front of the home crowd in College Station, Texas? If you didn't, don't worry. That's what we're here for.

Here's a look at some notes from ESPN Stats & Info to get you ready for Week 11:
  • Since allowing 42 points and 628 yards to Texas A&M on Sept. 14, Alabama has allowed just 4.3 points per game and two offensive touchdowns in its last six games.
  • The SEC West race could become a lot more clear depending upon the winner of LSU-Alabama. The Tide has a one-game lead on Auburn in the standings and a win Saturday could set up a monumental Iron Bowl on November 30.
  • Don’t read too much into both teams having a bye entering this game. Alabama has lost three games under Saban when coming off regular season bye week -- all vs. LSU, though LSU also had bye weeks in those matchups.
  • Zach Mettenberger has gone one direction of late and AJ McCarron has gone another. Mettenberger has seen his completion percentage and QBR drop noticeably in his last two games. He threw for 15 touchdowns and two interceptions in his first two games, but four touchdowns and five interceptions in his last two contests. McCarron, meanwhile, has improved his completion percentage and QBR in his last four games. He threw six touchdowns and three interceptions in his first four games, but 10 touchdowns and no picks in his last four contests.
  • Something's got to give. Missouri leads the SEC in turnovers forced (24) and turnover margin plus-15. Missouri also has a streak of 39 straight games with a takeaway, the longest active streak in FBS. Kentucky, however, has turned the ball over just six times all season, fewest among AQ teams.
  • Missouri also leads the SEC in sacks with 27. Defensive end Michael Sam is tied for the FBS lead with 10 sacks and is second in tackles for loss (16).
  • Kentucky has lost 14 straight games against AP-ranked opponents, including all four matchups this season. Its last victory over an AP-ranked team came over No. 10 South Carolina in 2010.
  • Auburn hasn’t been good at avoiding turnovers, but they have been excellent at preventing opponents from scoring points off turnovers. Auburn has committed 13 turnovers this season and is plus-2 in turnover margin, both middle of the pack in the SEC. But Auburn has only allowed just 10 points off turnover all season, tied with Washington for fewest in the FBS.
  • Auburn leads the SEC in rushing yards per game and yards per rush. They are tied for first in rushing touchdowns and, through nine games, they already have 20 more runs of 10 yards or more and 12 more rushing touchdowns than they had all of last season.
  • This is the fourth ranked opponent in four weeks for Tennessee and the seventh ranked opponent in an eight-game stretch. Tennessee snapped its 19-game losing streak against AP-ranked teams three weeks ago by beating then-No. 11 South Carolina. But the Vols are now 1-21 in their last 22 games against AP-ranked opponents.
  • Hard to believe, but this could be Johnny Manziel’s last home game. After this week, Texas A&M has an idle week before finishing with LSU and at Missouri. Manziel is only a sophomore but since he redshirted, he will be three years removed from high school and eligible for the NFL.
  • Texas A&M has reeled off eight straight games with 500 yards of total offense. It would be nine straight, but the Aggies finished with just 486 yards in a season-opening win against Rice. Among all FBS teams in the last 10 seasons, Texas A&M’s streak is tied for the fourth-longest and is the longest by an SEC team.
  • Dan Mullen is in his fifth season with Mississippi State and has a winning record overall (33-26) but has struggled in games against ranked opponents. Mississippi State is 2-19 vs. AP-ranked opponents under Mullen. The last ranked win came in 2010 against Florida and Mississippi State is 0-13 vs. ranked opponent since.
  • Florida has won the last 22 meetings against Vanderbilt. The Commodore's last win came in 1988.
  • With a loss Florida would be below .500 for the first time since it started 1-2 in 1992. Florida has not been below .500 this late in the season (as of Nov. 9) since 1979, when the Gators finished winless. A loss would also give Florida its first four-game losing streak since 2011.
  • Florida’s offense is last in the SEC in both yards per game (334.6) and yards per play (4.9). During Florida’s three-game losing streak, it has averaged just 236.7 yards per game and managed just three offensive touchdowns.
  • Vanderbilt is one of the slowest starting teams in FBS, being outscored 85-24 in the first quarter. That’s the second-worst point differential among BCS-AQ teams. Of the eight worst teams in first-quarter point differential, Vanderbilt is the only school with more than one win. In SEC games, Vanderbilt has been outscored 82-7 in the first quarter.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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The artist renderings and graphics of what the "Battle at Bristol" between Virginia Tech and Tennessee will look like are spectacular. The idea of hosting the largest crowd in the history of college football is definitely something to get excited about.

But the view? Maybe not so much. As a reporter, I've avoided buying binoculars for years. Those who know me would say "frugal" is too kind of a descriptor for my thriftiness. But if I covered that game, I might have to finally give in and purchase a pair to see the field.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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What a wild weekend of college football it was. Now that it's Monday, it's time to start the process all over again.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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We've reached the midway point of the season. And, well, some teams are hot while others are certainly not. Let's take a look.

GLOWING EMBERS

Missouri: Who knew? Prognosticators, both professional and amateur, are surely coming out of the woodwork by now, telling anyone who will listen how they had Missouri atop the SEC East before the start of the season. But tell those people to politely remove their tinfoil hats and drift slowly back to earth. No one had Missouri competing for a chance at the SEC championship. James Franklin hadn't even won the starting quarterback job entering fall camp. And the defense, without its best player in Sheldon Richardson, looked like a significant question mark. Sure, Gary Pinkel's bunch had to get better after all the injuries a year ago, but this? Pinkel's bunch is playing great football and we're only now starting to take notice after the way the Tigers throttled Georgia on the road 41-26. Missouri is in the top three in the SEC in scoring, passing and rushing offense, and most importantly the Tigers are leading the league in turnover margin.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMissouri is riding high after beating Georgia to remain unbeaten and climb to No. 14 in the AP poll.
HOT

SEC in the polls: The SEC set a record on Sunday for the most schools (eight) in The Associated Press college football poll. Though just Alabama remains in the top five, having so many teams scattered throughout the poll says something about the depth of the league. LSU and Texas A&M are both title contenders despite having one loss, and South Carolina isn't far behind at all. Florida, despite losing its starting quarterback, has maintained course, and Georgia, while seriously decimated by injuries, should remain in the top 25 this season. The surprises, though, are what make the league so special. No one had Missouri in the top 15 and very few thought Gus Malzahn could turn around Auburn so quickly, getting it back into the top 25 for the first time since November 2011.

NOT

Ole Miss: One team that would have made nine SEC schools in the AP Top 25, Ole Miss, dropped from the rankings two weeks ago when it lost to Auburn on the road. That defeat was bad enough. Losing at home to Texas A&M on a last-minute field Saturday night made it even worse. Sure, Ole Miss wasn't favored to win the game, but that didn't dull the sting of seeing another win slip away. Hugh Freeze told anyone who'd listen this offseason to expect some bumps in the road, that his team couldn't live up to the sky-high expectations being forced upon it. But Freeze couldn't help going 3-0 and beating Vanderbilt and Texas on the road. Now his team has come down from its early-season high and the holes we all expected -- offensive line, depth on defense, etc. -- are once again glaring. And with No. 6 LSU up next, things aren't getting any easier for the Rebels.

HOT

The Mad Hatter: Was Florida's defense that good? Was LSU's offense that bad? Did any of that matter? Nitpick all you want at LSU's 17-6 win at home over Florida, but the fact remains Les Miles' bunch won the game, improved to 6-1 on the season and remains right in the thick of the championship race. Yes, we all expected Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to do more through the air, but like a pitcher on the mound without his best stuff, LSU found a way to survive the day with a W. Jeremy Hill proved once again why he's one of the best running backs in the country, and we may have seen LSU's embattled young defense take an important step forward.

NOT

Clowney the villain: I'm reminded of the Jay-Z song "Can I Live," and no, it's not because of the rumor that the rap mogul tried to sign Jadeveon Clowney before the start of the season. Instead, you have to look at South Carolina's embattled defensive end as a point of over-speculation. Let's just let the man live. No, he's not having the Heisman Trophy campaign many hoped for, but so what? How many defensive players win the trophy, anyway? Forget the missed snaps and missed practices and all of the talk that surrounds Clowney and just appreciate his talent. Remember, he'll be gone to the NFL soon. Maybe after weeks and weeks of harping on the negative with very little to show for it, we can just let him play the game and watch him like we would any other player.

[+] EnlargeAlabama Defense
AP Photo/Garry JonesThe Alabama defense had a streak of 14 quarters without yielding a touchdown snapped at Kentucky.
HOT

Alabama's defense: It took two defenders literally running into each other for Alabama to finally surrender an offensive touchdown. Against Kentucky, cornerbacks John Fulton and Jarrick Williams collided in coverage and both fell to the turf. UK wideout Javess Blue gladly caught the wide-open pass and trotted untouched into the end zone. And thus ended Alabama's streak of 14 quarters without allowing a single offensive touchdown. Alabama's defense, which garnered its fair share of criticism after being lit up by Texas A&M -- what defense hasn't? -- has played lights out since.

NOT

Kentucky's offense: The Air Raid 2.0 didn't get an inch off the ground Saturday in Lexington. Kentucky's young offense was dominated by Alabama, held to under 200 yards. It took a fluke play for the Wildcats to even score (see above). Converting on 2 of 12 third downs is bad no matter how you slice it. And to make matters worse, UK starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow looks like he'll miss some time after injuring his ankle. The good news is nothing was broken, but for a player who relies heavily on his mobility, coming back early isn't an option. Give Mark Stoops credit for what he has done on defense, but he has some work to do on the other side of the ball. You're not going to score many points in this league when you're starting a walk-on at wide receiver as UK did on Saturday night.

FREEZER BURN

Homecoming disaster: Steve Spurrier's words after the game said it all. "I do feel badly for Arkansas," the South Carolina coach explained. "That's not fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all." Why Arkansas scheduled the Gamecocks for its homecoming game is anyone's guess. But whoever did it should be second-guessing himself or herself today. In front of alumni and fans, the Hogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead, only to see South Carolina score 52 unanswered points and win going away. The Gamecocks threw for 260 yards to Arkansas' 30 and held the football 43:25 to Arkansas' 16:35. Watching, it felt like there was barely enough time to throw a parade, let alone name a homecoming queen.

Five things: Alabama-Kentucky

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- No. 1-ranked Alabama takes its show on the road today when it faces upstart Kentucky. The Crimson Tide is heavily favored to beat the young Wildcats, but there's nothing for certain in the SEC, especially on the road. Here are five things to watch when the game begins.

1. Which quarterback will it be?: As I wrote Thursday, Alabama is preparing as if both Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith will play. But it looks increasingly like Whitlow, who took every snap last week against South Carolina, will get the nod as the Wildcats starting quarterback. The former Prattville High (Ala.) star gives an added dimension to the offense with his ability to get outside the pocket and make plays with his feet.

2. Replacing Ha Ha: Both Geno Smith and Landon Collins did a good job filling in for suspended starting free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix against Georgia State. But let's face it, it would have been a shock if they looked bad against the Panthers, who are in their first season at the FBS level. Against Kentucky, we'll get a better idea of where the two true sophomores stand. Collins, though, seems to be ahead in his development. Look for him to start and Smith to come on at safety in certain packages.

3. Efficient passing: It certainly helped that there was little to no pressure on them, but both AJ McCarron and Blake Sims were particularly efficient passing the ball last weekend. McCarron completed 15 of 16 passes for four touchdowns while Sims, who was asked to do less with his feet and more with his arms, connected on 14 of 18 attempts. Kentucky's secondary, as well as its ability to rush the passer, will provide a better challenge, though.

4. Drake's job?: UA head coach Nick Saban went off a bit when he was asked why Kenyan Drake was sent plummeting down the depth chart at the beginning of the season. " Look, Kenyan Drake didn't play in the first game because he didn't do what he was supposed to do," Saban said. "So he might have played more in the first game if he had done what he was supposed to do." Now that Drake is doing his job and appears to be out of Saban's doghouse, he looks to be close to claiming the job we all thought he'd have at the beginning of the season, backing up starting running back T.J. Yeldon. Drake has rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown in his past two games.

5. Developing depth: Should Alabama jump out to a big lead again, we could see the youngsters on defense that many people have been talking about this past week. Eddie Jackson, the true freshman who has developed into a starter at corner, is continuing to progress. A'Shawn Robinson, the mammoth rookie defensive tackle, is pushing for more and more playing time each week. And Reuben Foster, the center of one of the most heated recruiting battles in recent memories last year, has come along slowly at linebacker. The more playing time youngsters like Foster receive, the better off the defense will be as a whole when the real challenges like LSU come.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Trey DePriest was asked Monday whether he and the Alabama defense were preparing for two quarterbacks or just one when it faces Kentucky on Saturday. But UA's starting inside linebacker shrugged and said he hadn't even considered it. He hadn't even watched the film yet, he explained.

"The only thing I know about them is the teams they've played -- the bigger schools -- they've played tough: Louisville, Florida, South Carolina," he said.

And thus ended the pregame analysis from DePriest. But to be fair, it's hard for anyone to determine what type of team Kentucky is five games into the season. Mark Stoops is just beginning to make an impact on a program that's floundered for the better part of the past decade. It took until last week for the first-year head coach to settle on a quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJalen Whitlow
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJalen Whitlow is a threat both running and passing, but Alabama says it will be ready for the Kentucky QB.
Jalen Whitlow, who led Prattville High (Ala.) to a state title game in Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2011, has the job now after beating out Maxwell Smith. The dual-threat passer took every snap in last weekend's game against South Carolina, completing 14 of 24 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for another 69 yards and a score.

"He's a good runner," UA coach Nick Saban said, sizing up a player his staff once recruited. "He's really continued to improve as a passer and was effective last week in that regard."

Whitlow came on late last season, starting seven games. But he's one of only a few pieces on Kentucky's offense that isn't brand new. The Wildcats' top three receivers are first-year players: Javess Blue, who leads the team with 22 receptions for 275 yards, transferred from a junior college, and Ryan Timmons and Alec Montgomery are both true freshmen. Even Kentucky's leading rusher at tailback, Jojo Kemp, was playing high school football at this time last year.

Neal Brown was hired by Stoops to lead the offense in December. He helped orchestrate Texas Tech's "Air Raid" offense from 2010-12, helping the Red Raiders to top-10 finishes in passing offense each season. The high-powered air attack has translated to Kentucky with mixed results thus far. The Cats are 14th in the SEC in scoring offense despite averaging 388.8 yards per game. UK, though, already has more plays of 60 or more yards (6) than it did all of last season (4).

But the brightest spot on offense may have come this past weekend when Kentucky scored 21 fourth-quarter points against South Carolina.

"We need to come out and build," Brown told reporters in Lexington. "We had a good fourth quarter against South Carolina and we need to build off that."

Whitlow, who accounted for all three touchdowns in the failed comeback, is maturing every day, according to Brown. But Stoops recognizes that his young quarterback will face something of a brick wall on Saturday.

"They have no weakness in their defense," Stoops said. "They don't have any weakness on their team."

Saban, though, isn't taking Whitlow or any part of Kentucky lightly.

"We didn't play very well the last time we were on the road," he said, "so we certainly need to do a lot better job against a very different kind of offense in terms of what we've had to play against in the past, because it's such a good running quarterback and a good athlete at that position. It'll be a real challenge and test for us."

Alabama has faced its share of mobile quarterbacks already this season, first against Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel in Week 2 and then against Ole Miss and Bo Wallace a few weeks ago. Landon Collins, who will likely make his second career start at free safety this week in place of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, said the defense knows the drill.

"We played against a lot of dynamic quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel," Collins said. "Just playing sound and playing our defense, as a whole, we should be OK."

Said starting cornerback Deion Belue: "Well, you know, it’s just a scheme that we have to have for them. At the same time, the dual threat, Whitlow, you have to respect him because he can throw as well. He can throw as well as the dropback passer and then the other quarterback can also run, you really have to prepare for both of them the same. You can’t group the one as just passing and the other just running. You have to prepare for them the same."

Collins, who spoke with the media a day after DePriest, said he wasn't concerned with the idea of not knowing who Kentucky will put under center. Whether it's Whitlow or Smith, he feels the defense will be just fine.

"We just have to play sound defense," Collins said. "That’s what we’ve been playing the last few weeks. Once we do that, we’re playing against ourselves, really."

Planning for success: Alabama

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The hits keep on coming. Alabama gets to take its show on the road this weekend as it travels to Lexington, Ky., to face the upstart Wildcats.

The Crimson Tide will win if …

Just do what you do. In fact, that last sentence could be the theme of the month of October for No. 1 Alabama. No one on this month's slate is capable of upsetting the Tide if they plays their game and don’t slip on the proverbial banana peel. Thumping Georgia State this past weekend was a good way to build momentum off a solid beat down of Ole Miss the week before. With the offensive line playing better, the passing game humming along and the defense continuing to improve thanks to young guns like Eddie Jackson, Alabama should be able to take care of business on the road and continue to mow through what will be an easy slate of October games.

The Wildcats will win if …

It will take another Bluegrass Miracle for Kentucky to pull off the upset at home over the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Jalen Whitlow is showing signs of improvement as a passer, but he's still got a long ways to go. The best UK fans can hope for is an early turnover and a quick score to put Alabama on its heels. Kentucky's defense has held its own and features a pair of good pass-rushers. If it can force UA to pass and get come pressure on the pocket, the Wildcats could have a puncher's chance.

Kentucky players to watch

QB Jalen Whitlow: The staff waited until Week 7 of the season to finally play just one quarterback in a game, and it was Whitlow. The dual-threat athlete completed 17 of 24 passes for 178 yards and two scores, and he also led the team with 69 yards and a touchdown rushing.

DE Za'Darius Smith: The No. 2-rated defensive end in junior college a season ago has made the most of his opportunity at Kentucky, ranking 15th in the country with 4.5 sacks. He and junior Alvin Dupree have combined for nine sacks on the season.

LB Avery Williamson: The Butkus Award Watch List selection has picked up where he left off last season when he finished second in the SEC in tackles, tying for 15th nationally with 10.2 tackles per game.

Alabama players to watch

OLB Denzel Devall: The sophomore linebacker has battled a knee injury throughout the week and was spotted wearing a knee brace during practice. But he appears ready to go, and Alabama will need him to play well, pressuring Whitlow while keeping containment.

OT Grant Hill: Alabama coach Nick Saban put the pressure on the true freshman before last week's game when he called him one of the best five linemen on the roster even though he hadn't started a game. And against Georgia State, he delivered, playing well in relief and showing some of the traits that made him the No. 1 offensive guard in the country out of high school.

QB Blake Sims: That wasn't a typo you saw in last week's stat sheet. Sims did indeed lead the Tide in passing, completing 14 of 18 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown against Georgia State. Saban has praised his development time and time again. The more he plays, the more you have to figure he'll compete to become Alabama's next starting quarterback when AJ McCarron leaves.

Key stats

14: It's hard to judge Kentucky in Stoops' first season at the helm. Why? Because the Wildcats are one of the most inexperienced teams in the country with 14 newcomers and eight true freshmen having already played this season.

93.7: Granted it was Georgia State, but what McCarron did to the Panthers completing 15 of 16 passes for 166 yards and four touchdowns was something special.

2: In 39 tries, Kentucky has beat Alabama just twice with the last coming in 1997 when the Wildcats upset the Tide 40-34 in overtime.

SEC Friday mailbag

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
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From Zachary (@ZacharySMT): In the hierarchy of the SEC, where do you see the South Carolina program after the Ole Ball Coach retires?

Alex Scarborough: I'd tell you it all depends on who would be hired as his replacement, but you already know that. Steve Spurrier has built a solid program in his time at South Carolina, and I don't see it as one that would fall apart dramatically should he leave. There's plenty of talent on both sides of the football, especially in terms of skill players on offense and big front-seven guys on defense. Whoever the South Carolina administration hires will have an enormous task ahead of them, though, and I'd prepare for a slight dip in the early going as things are settled. People have to remember where that program was before Spurrier, with 12 sub-.500 finishes since 1980 and not a single division title. He basically built it from nothing. Competing against North Carolina and the rest of the SEC for recruits isn't easy, and the SEC East only continues to improve.


From Press Thornton (@thornton_press): Your prediction on Bama-Ole Miss?

Alex Scarborough: Ah, I knew someone would ask this. And here I'd gone the whole week without making an official prediction. Well, I guess that streak ends here. While I'd like to say with certainty either way, I can't get behind either team completely. That said, I expect that if Alabama sorts out some of the kinks and plays to its standard, the home team will win and remain undefeated. But Ole Miss has a real shot to knock off the Tide in Tuscaloosa. If Hugh Freeze can get the tempo going and pressure Alabama's lackluster, thin secondary, the Rebels could pull off the upset. And with the receivers he has at his disposal, I think they're entirely capable of doing it. I see it as a high-scoring game either way and I give Ole Miss a 33 percent chance of winning the shootout.


From Joe Piccoli (@joepic8049): Missouri's three-man running back rotation a little overlooked right now?

Alex Scarborough: I'm looking at Missouri's rushing statistics now, and I'd have to say so. The Tigers are 33rd nationally in rushing yards (810), 17th in rushing yards per game (270) and 17th in rushing touchdowns (17). Russell Hansborough, Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy are doing an excellent job. But -- and here's where I'll counter those numbers -- I don't think I'm ready to say they're overlooked to a large extent. Frankly, Missouri hasn't faced anyone of consequence. The Tigers haven't played an SEC game and let's face it, Murray State, Toledo and Indiana aren't exactly stalwarts when it comes to stopping the run. Since I'm in a stats mood, Toledo and Indiana are ranked 67th and 117th nationally in rushing yards per game, and Murray State doesn't even show up on my readout. (Further inspection shows the Racers are allowing 173.5 yards per game on the ground.) While I like what I've seen from Missouri's running game so far, I want to see it continue past Arkansas State and on into Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in October.


From Fake Ned (@FakeNed): Is the SEC West stronger than last year with the improvement of Mississippi?

Alex Scarborough: That's a tough thing to say based on how good it was last year, when Alabama won the national championship, Texas A&M took the world by storm and LSU continued to do its thing. But I don't see any of those teams as being significantly better than a year ago. Alabama has shown it's flawed on defense and up front on the offensive line, Texas A&M's defense can leak like a sieve at times and LSU is so young that I don't know what to expect from them. LSU's offense is certainly improved, but the second half against Auburn gave me pause. That said, I see improvement at the back end of the West with Ole Miss continuing its surge, Auburn rebuilding in a hurry and Arkansas looking much improved. If the division is better or worse than a year ago, it's not by a wide margin.

SEC lunchtime links

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
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It's Hump Day, and, no, I'm not going to shout it like an overly eager camel in a crowded office. Instead, I'll just note that we're halfway to another exciting week of college football and only a day away from No. 3 Clemson going up against North Carolina State.

SEC lunchtime links

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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What a wild weekend of football it was. But now, we turn the page to Week 4 of the college football season and look forward to a new slate of games in the SEC.

SEC Week 2: Did you know?

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
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We're in the swing of things now. With Week 1 in the books, it’s time to take a look at some notes from the SEC and ESPN Stats & Info to get you prepared for the second full week of college football:
  • A total of 10 players from the SEC rushed for 100 yards or more in their opening games, including both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins of Arkansas.
  • Since 2006, the SEC has posted the highest nonconference winning percentage (regular season & bowls) of any conference. The league has a 333-74 record (81.8 winning percentage).
  • With the start of the NFL season upon us, a quick look around the league reveals that the SEC has had more of its former players on NFL rosters in the last five seasons than any other conference. Since 2006, the SEC has averaged 266.1 players per year on NFL opening weekend rosters. The league had a high of 257 players on NFL rosters last year, compared to the second highest ACC with 226.
  • Florida is now 13-0 under coach Will Muschamp when rushing for 150 or more yards.
  • The Gators have allowed two rushes of 50 yards or longer in the last 10 seasons combined, three fewer than any other FBS team. Last week, the Gators allowed a total of 50 yards on the ground and just one rush of 10 yards or longer.
  • Jadeveon Clowney recorded only three tackles in South Carolina’s season opener against North Carolina, but he still had an impact on the game. He had three total pressures, which brings his total number to 31 over the last two seasons, tying him with former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones for tops in the SEC.
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is going to miss his top target, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who's out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Murray completed 72 percent of his passes thrown to Mitchell, compared to 59 percent when targeting his other receivers.
  • It's been pointed out time and again, and we're going to continue bringing it up until it changes: Murray is 3-11 against ranked opponents in his career. He's 0-3 all-time against South Carolina. Murray's 46.0 QBR against the Gamecocks is the lowest of any team in the SEC East.
  • Your SEC leaders in Raw QBR aren't what you might expect as Arkansas’ Brandon Allen led the charge with a 91.6 rating, followed by Missouri’s James Franklin, Texas A&M’s Matt Joeckel and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. Last season Mettenberger ranked 12th out of 13 SEC quarterbacks in QBR.
  • Mettenberger's numbers could improve again versus UAB, which allowed 319 yards passing from Troy quarterback Corey Robinson, who set a NCAA record completing 93.8 percent of his passes (30-for-32).
  • Auburn is now 194-1 all-time when scoring 30 points or more against non-SEC opponents. The Tigers defeated Arkansas State in both previous matchups, with each victory coming by at least 26 points.
  • Ole Miss is 149-82-7 (.641 winning pct.) all-time during the month of September, including a 3-2 record last year.
  • Arkansas hosts Samford in its home away from home, War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, where the Razorbacks are 166-67-4 (.709) all-time.
  • Hogs coach Bret Bielema wanted to cut down on penalties during his first offseason, and the Razorbacks’ did just that on Saturday, accounting for all of four penalties vs. Louisiana -- the fewest in a season opener since 2008.
  • UK had 11 first-time starters in its season-opening loss to the Hilltoppers, which is a school record for first-time starters in a game according to records kept back to the 1993 season. A total of 10 newcomers (six true freshmen) saw action.
  • Tennessee is 7-0 all-time vs. current Sun Belt schools, including two wins last season (51-13 over Georgia State, 55-48 over Troy).
  • The Vols offensive line has a total of 129 career starts, led by Ja’Wuan James with 38 and Zach Fulton with 29.
  • Tennessee's 45-0 win in Week 1 marked the first shutout for UT since a 27-0 win over Middle Tennessee on Nov. 5, 2011.
  • The Aggies gained 486 total yards against Rice last week, which marked the 13th straight game that the offense has surpassed the 400-yard plateau, which is easily the longest streak in school history. Only Baylor has a longer streak of 400-yard offensive game among FBS teams. Since head coach Kevin Sumlin’s arrival in College Station, the Aggies have surpassed 400 in 13-of-14 games, including 500-plus yards eight times.
  • Missouri's Gary Pinkel coached Toledo’s through the 2000 season, and left for Columbia as the Rockets’ winningest coach in school history, with a 73-37-3 record in 10 seasons. Pinkel, who was inducted into Toledo's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009, led the Rockets to a MAC title and claimed three other MAC West Division championships.
  • It took 659 days, but Missouri junior running back Henry Josey, returning from a knee injury, picked up where he left off at Faurot Field this past weekend, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in Mizzou’s 58-14 victory over Murray State.
  • Vanderbilt saw Austin Carta-Samuels become just the second quarterback in Vanderbilt history to pass for 300 yards or more in a season opener on Saturday. The last time a Commordores quarterback hit that mark was when Greg Zolman threw for 300 yards in the 2001 opener against Middle Tennessee.
  • Jordan Matthews' 178-yard effort versus Ole Miss was the most by a Vanderbilt receiver since Earl Bennett amassed 223 receiving yards against Richmond in 2007.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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Ready or not, it's here. The start of the college football season is upon us with all of its promise and potential.

Throughout the SEC, there's a sense of new beginnings, of hope, of the fresh start so many programs have been longing for. Gus Malzahn will lead Auburn for the first time as its head coach, Bret Bielema and Butch Jones will coach their first games in the SEC at Arkansas and Tennessee, respectively, and Mark Stoops will take the first steps in rebuilding a Kentucky program that's struggled historically.

Everyone is on an even keel today, but that all changes when the lines are painted and the football is teed up for the start of the season. So as you get ready for all that Week 1 has to offer, keep an eye on these few things:

1. Return of the champs: Alabama has all the ingredients to make another run at a national title. AJ McCarron and T.J. Yeldon are Heisman Trophy contenders, and the defense is once again littered with potential All-Americans. With a league-best 16 players chosen to the Coaches' Preseason All-SEC Team, there's no doubting the talent assembled in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But can Nick Saban fend off complacency again and help his team meet its full potential? That remains to be seen, though a season opener against Virginia Tech is a good place to start. The Hokies are a three-touchdown underdog that Alabama could easily overlook with a bye week and Texas A&M to follow. Will overconfidence get the best of the Tide? If UA comes out with anything less than 100 percent effort, that could signal trouble for the road ahead.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray will aim to lead Georgia past Clemson in the Bulldogs' opener.
2. An early title test for Georgia: Mark Richt's Bulldogs won't get a chance to test the waters before jumping in headlong this season, as Clemson awaits in Game 1. Never mind letting Aaron Murray and his talented tandem of tailbacks get their bearings, and never mind allowing the revamped defense to find its stride; Georgia will encounter its first obstacle on the road to the national championship right away. Tajh Boyd and the Tigers offense are prolific -- and dangerous -- averaging 512 yards per game a season ago, which was good enough for ninth in the country. And while there's no doubting Georgia's ability on offense, there are some serious questions on the other side of the ball. After all, 10 of the 22 players listed on Georgia's two-deep depth chart have never played a down of FBS football.

3. Can LSU's offense turn the corner?: There have been glimpses of potential, but LSU's offense has never reached its full potential under Les Miles. The defense has been great, sure, but when it's come to scoring points, the Tigers left something to be desired. Not having the right quarterback had something to do with that, though, but this season, that excuse and all others won't be enough as Zach Mettenberger enters his senior season under center and new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron takes control. LSU will still line up and play power football, which it has always done well. The passing game, though, could use some spark, and Miles hopes Cameron is the guy to light that fire, starting with the season opener against TCU. Just because the Horned Frogs come from the defensively challenged Big 12 doesn't mean coach Gary Patterson's squad can't play ball. TCU has long been SEC-like on defense with playmakers like defensive lineman Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett. They'll get after Mettenberger and give LSU fans an early look at what the Tigers' offense is truly capable of.

4. Florida seeking playmakers: The Gators' woes on offense have been well documented. After all, Florida hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver in almost a decade. Since Tim Tebow left, there hasn't been a lot of chomp to the Gators' bite. For all of Jeff Driskel's faults as a young quarterback, it was hard to figure out exactly who he was supposed to get the football to last season. There was no Percy Harvin to be found. While there doesn't appear to be an All-American brewing at wide receiver now, this season should be better. Losing Matt Jones for the season opener hurts, but it should give other players a chance to step up and make plays. With a date with in-state rival Miami looming, coming out with a bang against Toledo could serve as the springboard to bigger and better things in 2013.

5. Which Johnny Football will it be?: It's only Rice, but Johnny Manziel needs to come out and set the tone right away for what kind of season he hopes to have. The Aggies’ success depends on it. After an offseason filled with turmoil, it's time for all of College Station to turn the page. We've heard time and time again that it will get better when Manziel can put aside the distractions and focus solely on football. Now, he has to prove it. If he really is tired of the college life and ready to move on to the NFL, he'll have to show he's capable of handling the spotlight and performing on the football field. Veterans like Luke Luke Joeckel, Ryan Swope and Damontre Moore are gone. For better or worse, it's Manziel's team, and the pressure is on him now more than ever.

Teams looking to recover in 2013

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
10:00
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was a mixture of old and new on the University of Alabama campus on Saturday. Coeds went one direction toward their future sorority houses on Bid Day while the school's silver-haired alumnus went another, walking toward Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Crimson Tide's second scrimmage of the preseason.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesNick Saban brought Alabama from middling to powerhouse. Which SEC school will do that next?
Boosters came en masse to watch the practice, agonizing over a team picked by the Associated Press that morning to begin the season at No. 1. Quarterback AJ McCarron would throw for 152 yards and a touchdown in yet another sign pointing toward his contention for the Heisman Trophy, and pass-rush specialist Adrian Hubbard had three sacks to help add to the anticipation of the season.

Up and down University Boulevard, the buzz was obvious. With Nick Saban at the helm, Alabama is back contending for another national championship.

The scene in Tuscaloosa wouldn't have been familiar seven years ago, before Saban arrived and the football program had swung out of neutral. A fraction of the team's boosters went to scrimmages and the school's undergraduate enrollment was some 5,000 students fewer.

But for those on the outside looking in that day, it was a reminder not only of how far Alabama has come but of how far other teams can go in the blink of an eye.

Tennessee tackle Antonio Richardson knows the history. He pointed out as much at SEC media days in July.

"Before Bama turned it around they were terrible … I mean, dead terrible," he said. "So why can't we be the next team that blows up?"

He's not the only one asking the question. Players at Kentucky, Arkansas, Auburn and Missouri are wondering the same thing: Why can't they reverse their fortunes and bounce back in 2013? If you're looking for a sense of defeat from teams that have become familiar with losing, think again.

Jacques Smith is hoping his new coach, Butch Jones, can bring the Vols out of the doldrums and return them to competitiveness in the SEC. Tennessee has a lot to replace with quarterback Tyler Bray and his top three pass-catchers from a season ago gone, but there's something Rocky Top has now that it didn't have a year ago -- energy.

"He's brought the confidence," Smith said of Jones, "and now we have our swagger back."

At Auburn, where the Tigers went winless in league play last season, players are substituting "swagger" for "edge." As coach Gus Malzahn explained, when the Tigers play with the right "blue collar" attitude, history shows they can compete for championships.

"The No. 1 thing that our players have to do for us to be successful this year is get our edge back," he explained at media days. "That is the mental and physical toughness, the blue-collar, hard-nosed hit-you-in-the-mouth Auburn football that's made Auburn great. Worry about your teammate, not worry about yourself. Lose the entitlement issue."

On the field, Auburn took one step forward and one step back in that respect last week, losing safety Demetruce McNeal on the same day it announced that Nick Marshall had won the starting quarterback job. The good news: Malzahn had decent success with his last transfer quarterback, Cam Newton. The bad: Marshall will be the seventh different quarterback to start a season opener for the Tigers in the last seven years.

Kentucky, which had the fewest wins of any SEC team a year ago, doesn't know who its starting quarterback is. The Wildcats entered preseason camp with three players competing for the job: Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, who ended spring practice in a dead heat. Determining who will handle snaps under center, whether it's one player or a mixture of all three, will be Step No. 1 in getting a team that is returning 13 starters back on track.

But what Mark Stoops has done off the field has already reinvigorated the Bluegrass State. Football may never trump basketball in Kentucky, but UK's new head coach is at least making the game more competitive, creating a buzz on the recruiting trail that's spread out to players and the fan base as a whole. If the saying is true that Jimmies and Joes do more than X's and O's, then Stoops is on the right track. Kentucky finished a respectable 36th in the ESPN Class Rankings in February and is off to a hot start for the 2014 class, coming in at No. 16, ahead of programs like Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Mississippi State.

To the Southwest, Arkansas is taking the old-school approach under new head coach Bret Bielema, who insists that the Razorbacks return to "normal American football." John L. Smith might have been a disaster as head coach in 2012, losing four of eight games, but he didn't leave the cupboard completely bare. With All-American candidates on both the offensive and defensive line and a fullback that looks as though he could run through a brick wall, Bielema has the pieces to run the type of smashmouth system he wants.

The problem for Bielema is the schedule, which sets up dreadfully with Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in consecutive weeks. By the time Auburn and Ole Miss role around, there's no telling where the Razorbacks will stand, if they're standing at all.

Unlike the previously mentioned schools, Missouri is hoping for a significant rebound despite no significant overhaul on the coaching staff as Josh Henson was promoted from co-offensive line coach to offensive coordinator. Gary Pinkel is back for his second turn in the SEC and this time he hopes to bring senior quarterback James Franklin along with him for the ride.

Last year Franklin missed a significant portion of the season with a shoulder injury and Pinkel didn't do him any favors when he came back this spring, thrusting him into a quarterback competition that didn't end until last week. Now fully healthy, Franklin hopes to return to his form of 2011, when he finished fourth in the Big 12 in passing efficiency behind future pros Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones. And with some help from the running game and a boost from rising star Dorial Green-Beckham, those expectations might not be that far off.

Like so many programs hoping to bounce back in 2013, Missouri relies on more than the play of its quarterbacks. Winning the line of scrimmage and protecting the football will be vital to competing against traditional powers like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. In this league, you can't give games away, which is exactly what Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas did last year, finishing among the bottom five schools in the SEC in turnover margin.

Luck will be important too.

Alabama didn't get to where it is without the stars aligning properly. Saban had to sign before the program took off, and even then he had some cleaning house to do. Without landing standouts like Julio Jones, Courtney Upshaw and AJ McCarron, there's no telling where the Tide would be right now.

Instead of packing the stands for a scrimmage in mid-August, Alabama could be like much of the SEC, looking up at empty bleachers while it waits for its luck to turn.

Top SEC rivalries

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
10:53
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The SEC is full of colorful and tradition-rich rivalries. And nasty ones, too.

Not all the time, though. Rivalries are like the tide (not Alabama). They ebb and flow. Sometimes they’re fierce and sometimes they’re just another game. We took that into consideration when ranking the top five rivalries in the SEC. We went with the ones that are the hottest right now.

Alabama-LSU

It’s hard to top a game that has national championship implications every year. Plus two of the best coaches in the country. And loads of NFL talent. The teams have met annually since 1964, but the game became even more important in 1992, when both were slotted into the Western Division. The winner of the regular-season meeting has gone on to win the division title eight times in the last 12 seasons, including four of the last five. LSU has won seven of the last 11 meetings, but Bama won the biggest meeting between the two: the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.

Florida-Georgia

This had become a pretty boring rivalry, with the Gators going 18-3 from 1990 to 2010 in the annual meeting in Jacksonville, Fla. But the Bulldogs have won back-to-back games for the first time since 1987-89 and there have been a series of events that have brought an edge back to the rivalry: the Gator Stomp (2007), Urban Meyer’s timeouts (2008), Brandon Spikes’ eye gouge (2009), and Todd Grantham’s choke sign (2010). Plus, the past two meetings have been pretty entertaining. Aaron Murray threw a pair of fourth-down TD passes to rally the Bulldogs from a 17-3 deficit in 2011 and Georgia forced six turnovers last season.

The Iron Bowl

Even though Alabama has won four of the last five meetings and Auburn has posted one winning conference record in the past five seasons, this game still resonates around the conference because of its tradition. Oh, yeah, there also was that Alabama fan who poisoned the trees at Toomer’s Corner. On the field, the Crimson Tide have won four of the last five. The only Auburn victory in that span came in 2010, and it was one that’s going to sting Bama fans for a long time. Cam Newton rallied the Tigers from a 24-0 deficit and led them to a 27-24 victory in Tuscaloosa. Auburn went on to win the national title.

Georgia-South Carolina

What rivalry wouldn’t be juiced by the addition of Steve Spurrier? Georgia has dominated the series (46-17-2) and had won five in a row from 2002 to '06, but South Carolina has won four of the last six games -- including two in Athens. Spurrier arrived in Columbia in 2005 and has gone 4-4 against the Bulldogs despite having some inferior teams. Spurrier hated the Bulldogs from his playing days at Florida, and he carried that over into his coaching career with the Gators and now with the Gamecocks. That’s why his career record against Georgia is 15-5.

The Egg Bowl

A national championship berth or a Western Division title isn’t on the line when these teams meet on Thanksgiving weekend (Thanksgiving night this season), but to the people in Mississippi, this game is just as important. And to the coaches trying to woo the talent throughout the state, it’s a must-win. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen injected a bit of life into the rivalry when he was hired in 2009, stealing a bit from former boss Meyer by referring to Ole Miss as “the other school in the state.” Mullen had been undefeated against Ole Miss until the Rebels’ surprising 41-24 rout last season in coach Hugh Freeze’s first year.

A rising rivalry

Even though Alabama and Texas A&M have met only five times, this is a series that could get pretty interesting pretty quickly now that the teams will be meeting every year. Last season’s meeting, the first since 1988, was an instant classic and pretty much won Johnny Manziel the Heisman Trophy. He led the Aggies to a 29-24 victory in Tuscaloosa, the only game the Crimson Tide would lose en route to the national title. Bama fans are eagerly awaiting the rematch in College Station on Sept. 14.

A falling rivalry

Florida-Tennessee used to be one of the biggest matchups of the season in the 1990s, with the winner having a leg up in the Eastern Division race. Now it carries no more cachet than a Vanderbilt-Kentucky matchup. The Gators have won eight in a row and the Vols haven’t been closer than 10 points in the past six meetings.

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