Alabama Crimson Tide: Austyn Carta-Samuels

Will SEC defenses improve in 2014?

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
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With so much quarterback talent leaving the SEC after the 2013 season, it seems nearly impossible for the league's offenses to maintain their production from a year ago. There is simply too much to replace at the game's most important position to predict that SEC offenses won't experience at least a temporary efficiency gap.

Last fall featured a collection of some of the most productive SEC players who ever lined up under center -- led by 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, 2013 Heisman runner-up AJ McCarron and the league's all-time leading passer Aaron Murray. Throw in South Carolina's Connor Shaw, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Missouri's James Franklin and Vanderbilt's Austyn Carta-Samuels, and you have veterans who posted eye-popping numbers or who helped their teams ascend to rarely-seen heights in their respective programs' histories.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Dave MartinNick Saban and the Alabama defense will have their work cut out for them with the high-powered SEC offenses.
They're all gone now, leaving offensive coordinators at some of the league's most prominent programs to start over with new quarterbacks -- and in some cases, quarterbacks who haven't started a single game.

That has to help the league's defensive coaching staffs feel a bit more confident despite the thrashings their units absorbed over the last year or two, but I've got some bad news for them. Their problems are far from solved.

The last couple of seasons only continued a trend toward more explosive offense and away from the suffocating defense that was the SEC's trademark for many years. Just a few seasons ago, nearly every SEC defense ranked among the nation's top half in terms of yards allowed. That's no longer the case, as about half of the league's defenses trended toward the bottom in 2013 -- with Arkansas (76th), Missouri (81st), Tennessee (83rd), Auburn (86th), Kentucky (91st) and Texas A&M (109th) all ranking 75th or worse nationally in total defense.

Getting rid of some great quarterbacks will certainly help improve those numbers, but this is no longer the smashmouth, pound-the-run league that it once was. It's not as simple to defend what today's offenses throw at you as it was during the I-formation days of yore, and several SEC defenses have a long way to go before anyone would consider them competent at containing such attacks.

You have Gus Malzahn's ground-based spread at Auburn, which led the nation with 328.3 rushing yards per game and nearly carried the Tigers to a BCS crown. There's Missouri's version that featured one of the league's top rushing attacks and some dangerous (and huge) weapons at wideout. Kevin Sumlin's spread at Texas A&M obviously benefited from having Manziel as the triggerman, but the Aggies are still going to post big numbers even without Johnny Football.

And you've still got versatile offensive schemes such as those at Ole Miss, South Carolina and Georgia -- all of which will start senior quarterbacks -- that will almost certainly continue to produce on the ground and through the air. Wild cards LSU, Florida and Mississippi State also have the potential to be impressive on offense depending on how their quarterbacks and young skill players develop.

Add it all up and it still looks like 2014 will still be a promising year for SEC offenses, even if it might not match the production from a period that featured some of the league's best quarterback talent in at least a generation.

That said, the league will still have its share of defensive stalwarts, and that group might even grow a bit larger this fall.

Alabama's defense is always one of the best, and a talented Florida team should take a step forward after injuries crippled it a season ago. South Carolina, LSU and Mississippi State all look to be impressive, while Georgia returns most of its starters and scored points in convincing Jeremy Pruitt to defect from Florida State to become its new defensive coordinator.

Those groups should be fine. If the league is to recover some of its defensive reputation, however, it will be a matter of the league's worst defenses suddenly getting their acts together -- and that will be a tall order since some of them were truly awful last season.

So to answer the original question, will SEC defenses improve this season? Sure, but don't expect a defensive renaissance to occur anytime soon. As long as the league features this many innovative offensive minds and explosive playmakers, the days where most SEC teams dominated the national defensive rankings are not coming back.

SEC lunchtime links

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
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Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and some quality time with family and friends during the holiday. To get you back into the football mood, let's take a look at some of the headlines from around the league:

What we learned in the SEC: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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We saw an overtime win by Mississippi State over Arkansas on Saturday, a last-minute win by Vanderbilt over Tennessee and a shocking win by FCS team Georgia Southern over traditional power Florida. In short, it was just another wacky Saturday in the SEC.

Here are five things we learned around the league:

Division races going down to the wire: Both the Eastern and Western Division races will go down to the final weekend. Missouri's 24-10 win over Ole Miss means the Tigers can clinch the East -- in its second season in the conference -- by beating Texas A&M Saturday in Columbia. If the Tigers lose, South Carolina will win the division by virtue of its head-to-head win against Mizzou. In the West, Saturday's Iron Bowl will settle the division when Alabama visits Auburn. Right now the unbeaten Crimson Tide have the edge, but the one-loss Tigers would win the tiebreaker if they can upset the Tide.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJohnny Manziel struggled against LSU on Saturday, just as he did against the Tigers last year.
Miles has Manziel's number: Johnny Manziel has run circles around almost everyone in his two seasons as Texas A&M's quarterback, but the defending Heisman Trophy winner hasn't fared well in two starts against LSU. In Saturday's 34-10 loss to the Tigers, Manziel finished 16-for-41 for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Les Miles' Tigers have limited Manziel to a 21.5 Total QBR in two games, and Saturday's loss was the first time he did not complete at least 50 percent of his passes.

Vandy's rabbit's foot still working: Vanderbilt backup quarterback Patton Robinette faked a jump pass to freeze a defender and ran for the game-winning touchdown against rival Tennessee with 16 seconds to play. This after Tennessee nearly stopped Commodores quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels on fourth-and-inches, only to have the initial call that he was stopped short overturned on replay. Vandy now has back-to-back wins over its in-state rival for the first time since a run of six consecutive wins over the Volunteers from 1920 to '26. The Commodores (7-4, 4-4 SEC) have won four of their last five games after sitting at 3-3 early in the season.

Murray's starting streak could end: Georgia laid a vicious 59-17 beating on Kentucky a week after a devastating loss at Auburn, but an injury to Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray put a damper on senior night. He injured his left knee in the second quarter and did not return, and coach Mark Richt said afterward that the SEC's all-time leading passer is unlikely to play Saturday against Georgia Tech. Murray has started every game of his college career so far -- he matched David Greene's school record for career starts by a non-kicker (52) -- but the Bulldogs might have to rely on backup Hutson Mason against the rival Yellow Jackets.

More mayhem for Florida: Will Muschamp's job status at Florida already seemed to be in jeopardy -- despite recent assurances to the contrary from his bosses -- even before Saturday's 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern. But the Gators fell to 4-7 with Saturday's defeat -- the program's first to a current FCS program since losing against Villanova in 1946 -- even though Georgia Southern didn't complete any of its three passes. The Eagles ran for 429 yards and held off a final Florida drive to pull the upset. That doesn't bode well for the embattled coaching staff. Florida will fail to play in a bowl game for the first time since 1990 -- Steve Spurrier's first season in Gainesville when the Gators were ineligible to go to a bowl because they were on probation.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
12:30
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Talking quarterbacks, BCS bowls, penalties, turnovers and even a punter in today's edition of the lunchtime links:

SEC lunchtime links

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
12:00
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It's game day! Sort of. While most of the league plays on Saturday, as usual, the SEC gets an early start this week with Kentucky and Mississippi State kicking off Thursday night on ESPN. So we'll start there with today's lunchtime links:

What to watch in the SEC: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
10:46
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Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

1. Thursday night football: It gets started tonight with Mississippi State hosting Kentucky. Both teams are searching for their first SEC win of the season. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has seen his team take some lumps and has shuffled its quarterbacks. Maxwell Smith will get the start because Jalen Whitlow was injured against Alabama. Mississippi State had to turn to Dak Prescott after Tyler Russell was knocked out of the season opener against Oklahoma State with a concussion, and though Russell has since returned, Prescott is still getting playing time.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is hoping Johnny Manziel will be able to play against Vanderbilt.
2. Manziel: To play or not to play? If it seems that we've been down this road before, it's because we have. People want to know whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel will play Saturday. He suffered an apparent shoulder injury in a 45-41 loss to Auburn but returned to finish the final 9:06 of the game, playing with pain in that throwing shoulder. Coach Kevin Sumlin isn't tipping his hand, simply calling Manziel "hopeful" for Saturday's game against Vanderbilt.

3. Can Mauk and Mizzou keep it going? Missouri freshman quarterback Maty Mauk made his first start last week in place of the injured James Franklin and was solid, completing 18-of-36 passes for 295 yards plus a touchdown and interception in a win over Florida. The Tigers (7-0, 3-0) hold at least a two-game lead in the loss column over the rest of the SEC East and host No. 21 South Carolina on Saturday. It's another test for the Tigers, who passed their last two -- at Georgia and versus Florida -- with flying colors.

4. Dylan Thompson gets the call for the Gamecocks: South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw sprained his left knee, and coach Steve Spurrier said Thompson will get the start Saturday against Missouri. Spurrier said Shaw could potentially be the backup and could take some snaps if the Gamecocks needed it, but Thompson will be the guy at game time. He has appeared in all but one game this season, completing 29-of-51 passes for 421 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

5. Shifting safeties for Bama: Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury and will be replaced by sophomore Landon Collins. He already has two starts under his belt this season (when Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was out), but now Collins will be lining up next to Clinton-Dix, who's returning from a suspension. Collins is eager for his chance, though losing the leadership that Sunseri provided isn't ideal.

6. Another Vols upset?: It'll be tough since Tennessee heads to Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on No. 1 Alabama, but the Vols have raised eyebrows in recent weeks. They were within a blink of upsetting Georgia on Oct. 5, taking the Bulldogs to overtime before losing 34-31, and last week they came away with a 23-21 upset of South Carolina. The past two games have been in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium, and the Vols must now go on the road against a juggernaut. Tennessee already has taken some lumps from Oregon and Florida on the road this season, but there's definitely a renewed optimism and energy permeating the program under Butch Jones right now.

7. Who's at QB for Vanderbilt? Starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels left last week's game in the second quarter with a left-leg injury and coach James Franklin's depth chart reads: Carta-Samuels or Patton Robinette. Robinette was 9-of-15 passing for 107 yards, a rushing touchdown and an interception in place of Carta-Samuels. Franklin hasn't publicly named a starter, as is the case with the Commodores' opponent -- Texas A&M -- so there's some uncertainty about who will take the first snap for each team when they meet at Kyle Field.

8. Nonconference tilts for three: LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss are all heavy favorites as each dips back into nonconference play this weekend. LSU is hosting Furman, Auburn takes on Florida Atlantic, and Ole Miss meets Idaho. LSU is looking to bounce back from last week's narrow loss at Ole Miss, Auburn hopes to continue the positive momentum from this season that hit a peak with a win at Texas A&M last week, and the Rebels (who upset LSU) are looking for their second straight win in the middle of a six-game homestand.

9. Recovery time for Arkansas, Florida, Georgia: Each of these teams has had its fair share of struggles and injuries, and they're getting a chance to shore those up as all three have a bye. Arkansas is searching for answers after getting beaten the past two weeks by a combined score of 104-7. Florida needs to kick-start a sputtering offense that has left the previously ranked team with two straight losses. Georgia, coming off two losses itself, is hoping to get Todd Gurley and Michael Bennett back next week.

10. Keeping the top spot: Alabama started No. 1, and the Crimson Tide occupy the top spot in the debut of this season's BCS standings. Nick Saban & Co. have been downright dominant, with their only close call coming in College Station in a 49-42 win over Texas A&M. Since then, the Tide have allowed just 16 points in five games. They host Tennessee -- a team that's building some momentum itself -- on Saturday and then have a week off before their showdown with LSU on Nov. 9. For now, the Tide continue to carry the torch for the SEC.

SEC predictions: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
9:00
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And just like that, Chris Low has caught up with me. It took him long enough, but he's finally back up here with the big boys.

Congrats. Maybe, he realized that he should put more time and effort into his picks rather than his dwindling golf game.

I have to respect his decisions lately. He has shown that he truly is a veteran when it comes to this stuff. He has bested me the past couple of weeks, and I've made some careless decisions.

Last week, we both went under the .500 mark, but Chris tied things up by correctly picking Missouri over Florida -- a pick I missed on. Really, SEC? You really had four major upsets in the same weekend? I mean, who saw that coming?

Chris went 2-4 pull even with me at 60-11 (.845), while I went 1-5. Not our best work, but things sure are interesting now. I can tell you that I won't be sleeping on Chris any longer. I admittedly laughed at a few of his picks this year, and it has come back to bite me.

But today is a new day. We're basically at 0-0 and I'm hungry for back-to-back championships.

Let's get to the picks:

Thursday

KENTUCKY at MISSISSIPPI STATE

Chris Low: Both of these teams are looking for their first SEC win of the season. Kentucky has lost 13 in a row on the road in the SEC. It’s a game Mississippi State has to have if the Bulldogs are going to have any chance of making a fourth straight bowl appearance. The home crowd will be the difference. … Mississippi State 27, Kentucky 21

Edward Aschoff: Both of these teams need this victory. The Bulldogs are looking to stay on the bowl path, while the Wildcats need some sort of momentum to this season. Kentucky won't be a pushover, but the Bulldogs should take care of business at home. … Mississippi State 34, Kentucky 21

Saturday

FURMAN at LSU

Low: It’s one of those weeks in the SEC where there are more than a few mismatches. Here’s another one in Tiger Stadium. LSU won’t be in the best of moods after losing last week on the road and will take out some frustration on their FCS foes. … LSU 45, Furman 13

Aschoff: The Tigers have to be frustrated after that loss at Ole Miss. Well, what a way to take out that frustration than to devour a cupcake at home surrounded by the lights of Tiger Stadium. … LSU 51, Furman 10

IDAHO at OLE MISS

Low: Despite being ravaged with injuries, Ole Miss was able to gut out a key victory at home last week over LSU. The Rebels are still banged up and even added a few more players to the injury list, but it won’t matter this week. … Ole Miss 48, Idaho 7

Aschoff: You know the Rebels are flying sky high after their upset win over LSU. Now, Ole Miss gets to add to the win total with a visit from the 1-6 Vandals. … Ole Miss 48, Idaho 10

FLORIDA ATLANTIC at AUBURN

Low: Don’t look now, but Auburn is rolling right along with visions of contending in the Western Division this season. The Tigers get a breather out of conference this week and will rack up more than 40 points for the third straight game. … Auburn 41, Florida Atlantic 14

Aschoff: A week removed from their major upset of Texas A&M, the Tigers get a chance to get some more of those youngsters out on the field with Florida Atlantic welcoming this team back to the Plains. … Auburn 45, Florida Atlantic 17

VANDERBILT at TEXAS A&M

Low: Neither team is 100 percent at the quarterback position. The Aggies expect Johnny Manziel to play despite a painful shoulder injury, and it looks like backup Patton Robinette is the man for the Commodores after Austyn Carta-Samuels went down last week with a leg injury. If you like offense (and not a lot of defense), this is your game. The Aggies are just too explosive on offense to lose two in a row at home. … Texas A&M 42, Vanderbilt 30

Aschoff: Both of these teams are literally hurting at quarterback, but you know Johnny Football will try his hardest to make it back to the playing field. The Aggies certainly can't sleep on this Vanderbilt team, especially with that struggling defense, but with or without Manziel under center, A&M just has too much offensively to lose two straight. … Texas A&M 41, Vanderbilt 28

TENNESSEE at ALABAMA

Low: The last time Alabama was remotely pushed in a football game was six weeks ago when the Crimson Tide survived the 49-42 shootout against Texas A&M. Their October schedule has been about as cushy as it gets. They get an improving Tennessee team, but the Vols aren’t ready to go into Tuscaloosa and win. … Alabama 35, Tennessee 9

Aschoff: Alabama hasn't had to deal with much competition at all this month and has allowed just 10 points in the past four games. Tennessee is riding high off that upset of South Carolina, and will push the Tide … in the first half. The Crimson Tide will cruise through the second half of this game like it's cruised through the rest of the month. … Alabama 38, Tennessee 13

SOUTH CAROLINA at MISSOURI

Low: With Connor Shaw ailing, Steve Spurrier says backup quarterback Dylan Thompson will start this week for South Carolina. Missouri didn’t miss a beat last week with backup Maty Mauk filling in for James Franklin. The Tigers can take a commanding lead in the Eastern Division race with a win, but the Gamecocks will make enough plays on defense to keep things interesting in the East with their biggest win of the season. … South Carolina 31, Missouri 27

Aschoff: These Tigers have everything going for them and with a win on Saturday, they will essentially win the East. But now the pressure is on. South Carolina is hurting after a loss to Tennessee and is now dealing with Shaw's injury. The offense and defense are clicking for the Tigers, but they haven't met a team as balanced as South Carolina, and Mike Davis will be the difference. … South Carolina 31, Missouri 24

SEC Week 8: Did you know?

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
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There are half-a-dozen games on the SEC slate this weekend and because the league had a record eight teams ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, all six games involved at least one ranked team while two of the six involve two ranked squads. It should be a compelling weekend for SEC football. In the meantime, here are some notes and nuggets to digest ahead of this week's action, courtesy of our friends at ESPN Stats and Information:
  • When playing teams not named Texas A&M this season, Alabama's defense has been dominant. The Crimson Tide have allowed just 5.2 points per game, 208.2 yards per game and one passing touchdown total to their other five opponents (the Aggies scored 42 points, had 628 yards and five passing touchdowns against Alabama). Also, the Tide are good about beating teams they're supposed to beat: they have won 43 consecutive games against unranked teams (last loss came Nov. 17, 2007 to Louisiana-Monroe).
  • Arkansas is in the third game of a five-game stretch that has the Razorbacks playing teams currently ranked in the Top 25. That portion of the schedule has been a challenge: after a 3-0 start, the Razorbacks have lost four straight. During the 3-0 start, Arkansas allowed just 12.7 points per game and outgained those opponents by a total of 548 yards. Since then, the Razorbacks are allowing 38.8 points per game and have been outgained by 526 total yards in four games. They lost six consecutive games to ranked teams.
  • How explosive has LSU’s new offense been? Consider this: LSU is second in the nation in total plays of 20 yards or more. The Tigers have 50 such plays through their first seven games, second only to Oregon (56). Compare that to 2012, when the Tigers had 59 plays of 20 or more yards all last season (13 games).
  • Ole Miss has 73 missed tackles this season, which is the highest total among AQ-conference teams so far this season.
  • Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is money on third downs. His Total QBR of 99.6 on third downs is best in the FBS and on pace to be the best by any player in the last 10 years. The highest third-down Total QBR for an entire season belongs to former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who posted a mark of 98.9 on third downs in 2010.
  • Auburn makes the most out of turnovers it forces and has a knack for keeping its own turnovers from significantly hurting the team. The Tigers have a negative turnover ratio (minus-2), but they are plus-32 in points-off-turnover margin. Of the 11 turnovers Auburn has committed, opponents have only scored 10 points off of them, while the Tigers have scored 42 points off of their opponents' nine turnovers.
  • South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw has been one of the more underrated performers in the SEC this season. One thing he has done well this season is take care of the football. He has the third-most pass attempts without an interception. Shaw has thrown for 10 scores and zero picks in 124 attempts, behind only Oregon's Marcus Mariota (165) and Nevada's Cody Fajardo (158).
  • Tennessee has lost 19 consecutive games to opponents ranked in the Top 25. The last win the Volunteers have recorded over a ranked team came over their opponent on Saturday, South Carolina, back in 2009 when the Gamecocks were ranked 21st.
  • Missouri is one of only two FBS teams in the country to win every game by at least 15 points this season (Oregon is the other). The Tigers have done it six times. The previous two seasons combined, Missouri only had five such wins.
  • Florida's opponents have completed only 26.8 percent of their passes thrown 10 yards or longer against the Gators. That's the lowest rate allowed by an AQ-conference team.
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who earlier this season became the SEC's all-time leader in career passing yardage, is 30 yards away from passing former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow for the career total offense record. Tebow's total was 12,232; Murray currently has 12,203.
  • Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels threw for more than 300 yards in each of the Commodores' last two games. The last Vanderbilt quarterback to do that was Jay Cutler in 2005.

Ranking the top 10 SEC quarterbacks

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
2:15
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Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray AP ImagesThe SEC is loaded with top QBs, but which signal-caller means the most to his team?
Since we've made it to through the first quarter of the season, we've taken a quick look at the first four weeks of the season across the blogosphere. We even saw ESPN's Brock Huard take a look at who he believes are the top 10 quarterbacks in college football.

On Huard's list, he had four players from the SEC. Alabama's AJ McCarron checks in at No. 4, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is fifth, Georgia's Aaron Murray ranks seventh and LSU's Zach Mettenberger is 10th. Huard bases his rankings on two factors:

1. Productivity at the collegiate level.
2. Pro skills.

Well, if Huard can look at the 10 best quarterbacks, why not cause a stir and rank the SEC's top 10 quarterbacks through the first four weeks? I'm looking at production and importance to his team.

Here's my top 10:

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Well, Johnny Football looks focused as ever and leads the SEC with 1,228 passing yards and 12 touchdowns. He passed for a school-record 464 yards with five touchdowns in the loss to Alabama and has 255 rushing yards with five more scores on the season.

2. Aaron Murray, Georgia: He might have that loss to Clemson standing out on his 2013 resume, but Murray has been on fire with his right arm this season. He's averaging 346.7 yards per game and has seven touchdowns to two interceptions. Against South Carolina, he threw for 309 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

3. Zach Mettenberger, LSU: After a very up-and-down 2012, Mettenberger has found quite the rhythm. He's second in the SEC with 10 touchdowns and threw his first interception last week against Auburn. After barely averaging 200 yards per game last year, Mettenberger is throwing for 256.5 yards per game and has a QBR of 88.3 in 2013.

4. AJ McCarron, Alabama: While McCarron could still be a Heisman candidate because of the Tide's current national championship quest, his numbers don't exactly jump out at you. But in the biggest game of the year -- the 49-42 win at Texas A&M -- McCarron threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns. On the season, McCarron has 702 passing yards with six touchdowns to two interceptions.

5. James Franklin, Missouri: After a year filled with nagging injuries, Franklin is healthy and is directing Mizzou's offense like he did back in the Big 12. The competition hasn't been great, but Franklin has, as he's averaging 291 passing yards and 60.7 rushing yards per game. Franklin has thrown six touchdown passes and has nearly 200 yards rushing yards with another score.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina's Connor Shaw has made plays in the passing game and with his legs.
6. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: The read option has been Wallace's best friend this season. He has run it to near perfection so far and it has really upset opposing defenses. Wallace has thrown for 648 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, and he has rushed for another 120 yards and three scores.

7. Connor Shaw, South Carolina: You could flip-flop Shaw and Wallace here, but Wallace gets the slight edge because of his importance to the team. Shaw's backup, Dylan Thompson, fills in nicely when Shaw is out. Still, Shaw has had a heck of a season, throwing for 661 yards and six touchdowns and rushing for 202 yards.

8. Austyn Carta-Samuels, Vanderbilt: Quietly, Carta-Samuels is fourth in the SEC in passing (889 yards). He has rushed for 63 yards and three touchdowns. But what kept him from being higher on the list are his turnovers. Vandy's new quarterback has thrown four interceptions, including two in the heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss.

9. Nick Marshall, Auburn: The former athlete/defensive back is starting to grow with every new snap he takes. He orchestrated a beautiful last-minute, game-winning drive two weeks ago against Mississippi State and has 809 passing yards. However, he has to cut down on his carelessness with the football. He has as many interceptions as touchdowns (four).

10. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: He might have started the year as Tyler Russell's backup, but Prescott has been impressive since Russell was sidelined with a concussion in Week 1. It might be hard to take him out with the numbers he has put up so far. Prescott has thrown for 709 yards with three touchdowns and one interception and has a team-high 215 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

SEC media days primer

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
3:00
PM ET
When: Tuesday through Thursday

Where: Hoover, Ala.

Big names in attendance: QB AJ McCarron, Alabama; QB Jeff Driskel, Florida; QB Aaron Murray, Georgia; QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU; WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss; QB Tyler Russell, Mississippi State; QB James Franklin, Missouri; DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina; QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Five biggest topics:

1. What's to be done about Johnny Football? There's no question that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has all of the talent to own the college football landscape in what likely will be his final season in College Station, but his off-field social media persona has drawn too much attention. Manziel is allowed to have as much fun as he wants. He's in college and he's young. But he's also one of the best college athletes around, and his team can't repeat what it did last season if he's not 100 percent focused. He, coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive lineman Jake Matthews will get bombarded with questions about controlling Johnny Football away from the field. What will Manziel's take be, and how will he handle the media circus?

2. This hasn't been the best summer for the SEC. Outside all of the Manziel social media drama, the SEC faced some embarrassing arrests during the offseason. The biggest scandal revolves around Vanderbilt's football program, which suspended and then dismissed four players during an investigation by the Nashville Metro Police sex crimes unit. The police and coach James Franklin have been quiet about the situation, but Franklin will have to address it. The earlier he does, the better. He might not have to give too many details, but meeting the incident head-on will save him from further scrutiny and questions. Sumlin also will be asked about the recent arrests of defensive backs Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven and the status of suspended defensive tackle Kirby Ennis. LSU coach Les Miles has been very quiet about running back Jeremy Hill's recent arrest and is letting it play out in the legal system, but chances are Miles will field plenty of questions about Hill and the effect on the team.

3. Four coaches are making their first trips to SEC media days: Arkansas' Bret Bielema, Auburn's Gus Malzahn (first as head coach), Kentucky's Mark Stoops and Tennessee's Butch Jones. All have made early splashes in their own ways, but it's time to deal with the circus that is SEC media days. We'll ask them all about their quarterbacks, offenses and early recruiting success, especially of Jones and Stoops. Bielema likely will field questions about comparing the Big Ten to the SEC ... and his Twitter account. Malzahn will be asked about getting Auburn's offense back to where it was when he was the offensive coordinator. These guys should have "fun" answering every single one of these, too.

4. Will Alabama make it three in a row? And which teams from the SEC can stop the Tide? We know that it's Alabama's world and we are all just trying to figure out the "process." Coach Nick Saban has all of the parts in place to win his third straight national championship and fourth at Alabama in five years. Saban & Co. will continue to talk about avoiding complacency and "fixing" whatever they deem isn't working at 100 percent. But what the country wants to know is who is ready to end the Bama dynasty? Can A&M tackle the Tide for a second straight year? Is LSU tough enough? Can Georgia's defense grow up fast enough? Can Florida's offense figure it out? Does Steve Spurrier have something up his sleeve? The people want to know!

5. There are a lot of unsettled quarterback spots. Auburn had a two-man battle this spring between veteran Kiehl Frazier and rising sophomore Jonathan Wallace. Both left the spring pretty even. Kentucky had three vying for the No. 1 spot in Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith. Whitlow has the slight edge. Missouri had James Franklin, Maty Mauk and Corbin Berkstresser fight it out. It looks like it's down to Franklin and Mauk, but coach Gary Pinkel has been quiet about it. Tennessee has Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman competing. Worley has the edge but little experience. And Vanderbilt watched Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette compete. Carta-Samuels has the lead, but Robinette isn't out of it.

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