Alabama Crimson Tide: Brett Bielema

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesJames Franklin and Missouri can prove they're legit SEC contenders with a win at Georgia on Saturday.
2. Health concerns at UGA: The Bulldogs survived a scare in Knoxville last weekend, but they didn’t come out unscathed. They lost both running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending injuries while fellow wide receiver Michael Bennett will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury. Georgia will have to bounce back quickly with No. 25 Missouri coming to town on Saturday.

3. Mizzou a legitimate contender? It’s safe to say nobody had Missouri as one of the two unbeaten teams in the SEC heading into Week 7. But after an impressive road win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers are 5-0 and finally starting to gain some respect around the league. The next three weeks will be telling, though, as they play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

4. LSU’s WRs versus Florida’s CBs: It’s a dream matchup for NFL scouts. LSU features what many consider to be the top wide receiver tandem in college football with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy is arguably the top cornerback in the SEC, and playing opposite of him is freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who already has three interceptions. The Gators are also expecting the return of corner Marcus Roberson, another one who could soon be playing on Sundays.

5. Tyler Murphy in Death Valley: Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Murphy has exceeded expectations for the Gators. In three games, he has thrown for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s progressively gotten better. However, the junior signal-caller is in for his toughest assignment yet when Florida travels to LSU this weekend. How will he perform in a hostile atmosphere?

6. The return of Cooper: When will we see the real Amari Cooper, the one who had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for Alabama? The star wide receiver has been slowed by nagging injuries all season, but he expects to play Saturday against Kentucky. Will he be 100 percent? Quarterback AJ McCarron would love to have him back sooner rather than later.

7. Aggies without Ennis: As if Texas A&M’s rush defense wasn’t bad enough, the Aggies lost Kirby Ennis, one of their top interior linemen, for the season with a torn ACL. The injury comes at a bad time for the Aggies, who have to visit Ole Miss this weekend and deal with Rebels running back Jeff Scott, not to mention quarterback Bo Wallace. The staff will turn to freshman Isaiah Golden, who is expected to start alongside Alonzo Williams in the middle.

8. Shootout in Oxford: The SEC has featured its fair share of shootouts early in the college football season, and Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M could be right up there. Both teams feature an up-tempo offense, and neither one likes to waste much time between plays. It could be a long day for both defenses.

9. Big game for Bielema: After a 3-0 start, Arkansas has quickly fallen back to .500 with three consecutive losses. However, first-year coach Brett Bielema has a chance to notch his first signature victory with the Razorbacks this Saturday when they host No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have struggled in recent weeks and could be prime for an upset. It’s likely a must-win scenario for Arkansas if the Hogs want to reach a bowl game.

10. Auburn’s quarterback: Who will start for the Tigers against Western Carolina? Starter Nick Marshall injured his knee last weekend against Ole Miss, and although he’s expected to play, coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t made a ruling one way or the other. If Marshall can’t go, Auburn will either turn to returning starter Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
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It might have been a down weekend for the SEC, but there is still plenty to talk about from Saturday's action. Here are five things we learned around the conference in Week 4:

[+] Enlarge Jeremy Hill
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsLSU running back Jeremy Hill (33) torched Auburn for 183 yards and three touchdowns.
LSU is a legitimate title contender: We won’t know for sure until next week when the Tigers travel to Athens to play Georgia, but LSU looked mighty impressive in its 35-21 win against Auburn on Saturday. The Tigers were physically dominant in the first half, especially on the offensive line. Jeremy Hill rushed for a career-high 152 yards and three touchdowns by the intermission. Auburn fought back in the second half, but LSU proved to be too much. Zach Mettenberger threw his first interception of the season, but he responded with two long scoring drives. The senior quarterback finished 14-of-22 for 229 yards with a touchdown and the one pick. The defense still has some question marks that need to be answered before next week.

The nation’s No. 1 team has work to do: Alabama is coming off back-to-back national championships, but this year’s team is far from perfect. Last week, the defense had no answers for Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. On Saturday, it was the Crimson Tide’s offense that struggled. Alabama knocked off Colorado State, 31-6, in the home opener, but the Tide had just one offensive touchdown going into the fourth quarter. It didn’t help that star running back T.J. Yeldon was suspended for the first quarter, and the Tide were without wide receiver Amari Cooper and offensive guard Anthony Steen, but Alabama still should have dominated against such an inferior opponent. They rushed for just 66 yards in the game.

Florida has a new quarterback: Jeff Driskel had his ups and downs this year, but he was basically the only option Florida had at quarterback. Now he’s no longer an option. Driskel broke his lower right leg in the first quarter against Tennessee, an injury that will force him to miss the rest of the season. Enter Tyler Murphy. The junior signal-caller, who had yet to throw a pass, was 8-of-14 for 134 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 84 yards and a score and helped Florida pull away from the Volunteers, 31-17. Murphy was a two-star recruit coming out of high school, but now he’s the starting quarterback for the Gators. He’ll make his first start next weekend when Florida hits the road to take on Kentucky.

It was a rough day for the new head coaches: The SEC features four first-year head coaches this season, and not a single one picked up a victory Saturday. Gus Malzahn and Butch Jones faced difficult road tests against better opponents. Auburn lost to No. 6 LSU in Death Valley, and despite a strong start, Tennessee came up short against Florida. The one that hurt the most was Brett Bielema’s Arkansas team and its collapse against Rutgers. The Razorbacks led 24-7 late in the third quarter, but Rutgers rallied in the fourth to win, 28-24. What makes it worse for the Hogs is that their next four opponents are all ranked in the top 20, beginning with Texas A&M next week. Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, the other first-year coach, had the weekend off.

Don’t sleep on Missouri: At the same time LSU was holding off a late comeback from Auburn, Missouri was running up the score on the road at Indiana. The Hoosiers might be a basketball school, but if you remember, Missouri lost to Syracuse late in the season last year, which kept the Tigers out of the postseason. More importantly, quarterback James Franklin is healthy. The senior threw for 343 yards, rushed for 61 yards and scored a combined three touchdowns against Indiana. He has now accounted for more than 1,000 yards of offense through the first three games. The Tigers aren’t likely to compete for the SEC East, but this team looks like a bowl team.

SEC Friday mailbag: Week 4

September, 20, 2013
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From Jospeh Bowker (@Joe_Bowker10): What are the chances that a one-loss SEC champion gets into the national championship game this year?

It all depends on the rest of college football. There will be plenty of possible candidates -- Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, the loser of the Alabama-LSU game -- but it will be extremely difficult to surpass the likes of Clemson, Ohio State, Oregon or Stanford if any of those teams are still undefeated at the end of the season. The most likely candidate right now is Georgia, which suffered a loss in the opener. If the Bulldogs can run the table and defeat the winner of the West in the SEC title game, it would be hard to keep them out of the national championship. Still, they would need a few things to fall their way, similar to Alabama a year ago.




From Daniel Badger (@badger_daniel): Both Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn are 3-0. Which coach ends up having a better first year at season’s end?

Both coaches have looked impressive in their respective debuts, specifically Bielema whom many doubted coming in. But based on schedules, Malzahn will likely have a better year. Arkansas has to travel to Rutgers on Saturday, and from there the Hogs play five of their next six games against ranked opponents. The only team not in the top 25 is Auburn, which travels to Fayetteville on Nov. 2. It’s a brutal stretch for the Razorbacks, who have to finish the year in Death Valley against LSU. It wouldn’t shock me if Bielema won the head-to-head battle against Malzahn, but the Tigers finish with the better record.




From John Keahey (@jkeahey): Was it that much improvement by Alabama’s offensive line or was Texas A&M’s defensive line just that bad?

It’s too early to say, but I would lean more towards Texas A&M’s defensive line being that bad. They struggled against the likes of Rice and Sam Houston State in the first two games, and it only got worse against Alabama. Give the Tide credit. It was a hostile environment, and they overcame adverity to outscore the Aggies, but the offensive line will still need to improve before the Ole Miss game next weekend and more importantly before LSU comes to town in November. It’s not a lack of talent for Alabama. It’s more of a chemistry issue, and the more the line plays together, the better the unit will become. As for Texas A&M, we’ll know more about the defensive front when it plays at Arkansas next weekend.




From Jared Moore (@TheJaredMoore): Do you think Ole Miss can get more than eight regular season wins?

The Rebels are certainly off to a great start, but three of their next four games are against top-10 teams, and sandwiched in between is a road test at Auburn. They’d be happy to come out of that stretch with two wins. However, the second half of the schedule is much easier. They play six straight home games, including two against Idaho and Troy, and they finish the year at Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. There’s a real possibility they win their final five games, which would put them right at eight even if they lose their next four. They’re not quite there with Alabama or LSU, but they can definitely get to eight or possibly nine wins.




From Tennessee Sports (@SportsNewsTN): What other coaches are the Texas Longhorns pursuing, perhaps in the SEC, Pac-12 or their own conference?

The two coaches most likely to get a call are Baylor’s Art Briles and TCU’s Gary Patterson. They have Texas ties and have been very successful at their respective programs. However, Briles is 57 years old, and Patterson might not be a big enough name for the Longhorns. If they strike out on Nick Saban as expected, Texas could request an interview with UA defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Saban’s right-hand man. He doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but his name always seems to come up for big jobs. Keep an eye on Will Muschamp, too. He was orginally named the successor to Mack Brown, but that fell apart when he left for Florida. Would he leave Florida to go back to Texas?

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