Alabama Crimson Tide: Cordarrelle Patterson

 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The scoreboard read like just another day at the office for Alabama, but Saturday night’s performance meant so much more to the No. 1 team in the nation.

It would have been easy for Alabama to coast through this one and grind out things in the fourth quarter, as it did against Missouri last week.

But the Crimson Tide didn’t come close to that. With their most balanced offensive performance of the season and yet another tremendous effort from their defense, the Tide pounded Tennessee 44-13 by playing arguably their most complete game of the season.

With top-15 opponents Mississippi State and LSU coming up in consecutive weeks, this was exactly the kind of performance Alabama needed going forward.

“We came in with a game plan and we executed it,” tight end Michael Williams said. “We like to come out and impose our will on our opponent, and we did that to the best of our abilities tonight.”

Previous games were mere tuneups for what lies ahead. Now, Alabama’s true tests come, and the difference between the SEC and more lies within the next two weeks. Heading into Saturday, questions still remained. Alabama did a great job of answering them.

Everyone harped on Alabama’s passing. On Saturday, quarterback AJ McCarron couldn’t throw it enough, as he passed for a career-high 306 yards and had four touchdowns on 17-of-22 passing.

People wondered how Alabama’s secondary would fare against a talented passing game. It shined, as Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson were targeted 14 times but combined for five catches for 95 yards and no touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Randy Sartin/US PresswireAJ McCarron answered doubts about Alabama's passing with four TDs and a career-high 306 yards.
Tyler Bray threw for just 184 yards and two interceptions.

And the young offensive playmakers are getting better, as receiver Amari Cooper led all receivers with 162 yards and two touchdowns, and T.J. Yeldon led all rushers with 129 yards and two scores.

Players knew how important it was to come out and have everything click before Alabama's upcoming stretch. A rusty win only makes for longer film sessions and more pressing. This team had to have a complete game before facing the Bulldogs and Tigers.

After Saturday, Alabama is showing the systematic separation between not just its opponents, but the rest of the nation.

“We played all four quarters of Alabama football tonight,” center Barrett Jones said.

People nitpicked at the offense being too run-oriented, but it was as balanced as ever Saturday. McCarron was asked to pass more and showed he certainly doesn’t have a problem slinging the ball.

“Everybody’s gotta understand, we’re gonna take what the defense gives us,” McCarron said. “One week, we might have to run it, and the next week, we might have to throw it. Tonight, we got them on their heels a little and we were able to do both really well.”

So well that it even had coach Nick Saban consenting that this was his team’s most complete game.

“I was really pleased with how our guys played for 60 minutes in the game, and we know that’s what it would take,” Saban said. “They kept grinding, and we finally got control of the game.”

Alabama’s recovery was splendid, as well. Adversity hadn’t really hit this team until Saturday, but the Tide always responded, as the offense scored touchdowns directly after three drives that ended without scores and the defense erased big plays almost immediately after they occurred.

Tennessee averaged just 4 yards on the plays right after the Vols’ four pass plays that went for 20-plus yards. One play was a 2-yard touchdown, while only one other drive led to a score -- a 32-yard field goal.

Trouble didn’t bother Alabama.

“We did an excellent job doing that, forgetting about the big plays and making all big plays on defense,” said safety Robert Lester, who intercepted Bray in the end zone three plays after a 44-yard Hunter reception in the third.

Alabama wasn’t perfect, but it played its most well-rounded game without a lull in its performance. That’s what this team has waited for. It’s more focused and it’s getting better at the most important time of the season.
If he wasn’t before the game, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron put himself in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy with his performance at Tennessee on Saturday. McCarron finished 17-of-22 for 306 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions as the Crimson Tide cruised, 44-13.

After a sluggish start in the first half, the running game picked up in the second half as Alabama finished with 233 yards on the ground. Freshman T.J. Yeldon led the way with 129 yards and two touchdowns, including one from 43 yards out.

The Bama defense did its part as well, holding Tyler Bray and the high-powered Tennessee offense in check throughout the game. Bray finished 13 of 27 for 184 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Vols wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had just one catch in the game.

It was over when: Tennessee hung around in the first half, and had a chance to cut into the lead and make it a two-score game again late in the third quarter when Robert Lester intercepted Bray in the end zone. Alabama scored the next 14 points to put it away.

Game ball goes to: McCarron had a career night for Alabama, but the game ball goes to his go-to wide receiver Amari Cooper. The true freshman put the Tide on the board first with a 23-yard touchdown reception, and he added another score in the second half on a 42-yard catch. Cooper finished with seven receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

Stat of the game: Alabama’s offense finished with 539 total yards of offense against Tennessee. It’s the second week in a row and the third time in the past four games that the Tide have gained more than 500 yards of total offense.

What it means for Alabama: Many thought this would be the first real test for the Tide defense, and if it was, it passed with flying colors. Combined with the performance from McCarron and Yeldon on the offensive side of the ball, Alabama showed why it’s still the No. 1 team in the country. The Tide won’t look ahead with an undefeated Mississippi State team visiting next week, but it’s never too early to eye the showdown at LSU in two weeks.

What it means for Tennessee: The stool Derek Dooley was supposed to sit on during the game just got a little warmer. Tennessee has now lost their first four SEC games to start the season, and it doesn’t get any easier next week with a road game at South Carolina. The Volunteers finish with Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, but any less than six wins could signal the end of the Dooley era in Knoxville.

Game preview: Alabama at Tennessee

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
8:30
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's something about the Third Saturday in October, Alabama versus Tennessee, crimson and orange on a fall night.

It's not a rivalry by geography, nor is it one that dates back to the school's inception. But the rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee is no less intense. In fact, to UA linebacker Trey DePriest, it might be the most intense game the Tide play all season.

"Being a second-year player, it's kind of grown on me now," he said. "Last year, I didn't know. I thought it was always Alabama-Auburn. I didn't really know about the Tennessee game. But a lot of the older fans take this game real seriously. It's bigger than Alabama-Auburn to them."

To Cyrus Kouandjio, the game represents something different. The sophomore left tackle will come full circle Saturday, marking a year since he tore his ACL at home against Tennessee. The road back wasn't as easy as he thought it would be.

"When I got hurt was almost exactly a year ago; it was tough," Kouandjio said. "To rehab every day -- I didn't know it was going to be as hard, actually. When you get hurt, it's not a joke, because it's tough to get back. I'm still kind of hurting a little bit. But I'm just ready to go out there and play, you know? I'm actually pretty excited. It's been a year, and this is the same team that I tore my ACL against.

"I'm ready to go out there and have fun."

With a trip to Neyland Stadium to look forward to all week, Kouandjio said he has noticed a change not just in himself, but the team as a whole.

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Now that you've seen Chris Low's top 25, it's time to see what my list of the top 25 players in the SEC looks like.

I'm not perfect, but I'll try to be:

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Who has been more exciting than Johnny Football? The Aggies aren't 5-1 without him or his 1,600 passing yards, 676 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

2. Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: He's powering Florida's offense and he's been the SEC's best back thus far. He's extremely explosive and is strong enough to bully his way to extra yards and wear down defenses.

3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: He's turning into the dominating player we've really been waiting to see. Some think he might be the best player overall in the conference and is pushing to be next year's No. 1 NFL draft pick.

4. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: At one time, he was a Heisman candidate, but injuries and double-teams stunted that campaign. Still, he's the SEC's best linebacker, can fly around the field and just feasts on opposing quarterbacks.

5. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: He's been Alabama's best defensive player this year and can make plays from just about anywhere on the field. He leads Alabama with 51 tackles, has 2.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

6. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Even though he moved from linebacker to defensive end, Moore has been just as dominant as he was last season. He leads the SEC in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (15).

7. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State: This summer, he said he was the SEC's best cornerback and he hasn't disappointed. He has three interceptions on the season and is averaging just 4.7 yards per attempt in man coverage.

8. Chance Warmack, OL, Alabama: He might be the nation's best offensive lineman and he's just blowing defenders up this season. No wonder Alabama can run the ball so well.

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3 up, 3 down: Alabama opponents 

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In the wake of No. 1 Alabama's bye week, a look at the good and bad from Alabama's six remaining conference opponents.

THREE UP
1. Mississippi State: Who would have thought that Mississippi State would be tied atop the SEC West with Alabama through five games, and not LSU? Those who paid attention to the Bulldogs' schedule might have considered it.

Predictions: SEC Week 4

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
10:30
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Well, well, well. It looks like The Kid knows a little bit about what he’s yapping about these days.

After two weeks of having identical picks, we have some separation after I correctly picked that Florida would walk into Neyland Stadium and snatch a win away from the Vols. I thought the Gators would win because of their defense -- and that unit did just what I thought it would in the second half -- but I didn’t think Florida’s offense would step up like that. My goodness.

Talk about Rocky Bottom.

That’s exactly where Chris sits heading into Week 4 with a record of 31-4 (.886), which is one game behind my 32-3 (.914) record. We both missed on Kentucky losing to Western Kentucky last week, but the most important thing in my eyes is that I have a one-game lead, and I can tell that Chris is scrambling.

You should have heard our conversation after his alma mater let the Gators off the hook Saturday. The mental games for him started when Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter both dropped those key second-half passes for the Vols. They just fueled his realization that he'd leave the weekend a game behind The Kid.

It’s funny how he has time to take jabs at my love for soccer (the world’s most popular sport, I might add), but doesn’t have the time to remember that defense wins championships. Going with offense last week was a true gaffe by the vet.

For the sake of competition, I hope he has learned his lesson.

On to the picks:

OLE MISS AT TULANE

Edward Aschoff: The Rebels are coming off quite the blowout loss to Texas, in which the defense was totally overmatched. The Rebels face one of the nation's worst offenses, so the outcome will be much different. ... Ole Miss 31, Tulane 14

Chris Low: Ole Miss’ defense is reeling following the Texas stampede last weekend. The good news for the Rebels is that Tulane has been anemic offensively in its first two outings. … Ole Miss 31, Tulane 13

FLORIDA ATLANTIC AT ALABAMA

Edward Aschoff: The only real question for Alabama is whether the defense can pitch its third straight shutout. One will get past this defense. ... Alabama 45, Florida Atlantic 3

Chris Low: One of these days, the Crimson Tide are going to have a game where somebody comes within 40 points of them again. But it won’t be this one. … Alabama 56, Florida Atlantic 3

SOUTH ALABAMA AT MISSISSIPPI STATE

Edward Aschoff: The Bulldogs got caught sleeping a little bit in last week's win against Troy, but expect to see a little more life out of Mississippi State this weekend. ... Mississippi State 45, South Alabama 14

Chris Low: The Sun Belt Conference tour continues for Mississippi State, although this one is at home. The Bulldogs need to play better after playing just well enough to survive last week at Troy. … Mississippi State 38, South Alabama 10

SOUTH CAROLINA STATE AT TEXAS A&M

Edward Aschoff: We saw a good bit of offense and points from the Aggies last week, and they shouldn't have a problem keeping that up Saturday. ... Texas A&M 51, South Carolina State 7

Chris Low: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel already has established himself as one of the most exciting players in the SEC. Look for him to roll up Xbox numbers for the second straight week. … Texas A&M 45, South Carolina State 14

AKRON AT TENNESSEE

Edward Aschoff: The Vols have to move on from last week's loss to Florida. Getting the offense back on track against the Zips is the best way to do that. ... Tennessee 45, Akron 14

Chris Low: A lot of air came out of the Vols’ Big Orange balloon last weekend following their collapse in the second half against Florida. They ought to have this one in hand well before the second half. … Tennessee 42, Akron 17

KENTUCKY AT FLORIDA

Edward Aschoff: The Gators are brimming with confidence after back-to-back road wins, and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said he wanted to hang 50 on the Cats. He'll come close. ... Florida 45, Kentucky 10

Chris Low: Kentucky has snapped a couple of long losing streaks over the past two years against Tennessee and South Carolina, but the drought against Florida will grow to 26 in a row Saturday. … Florida 38, Kentucky 14

LSU AT AUBURN

Edward Aschoff: LSU has quietly been one of the most impressive teams in the country, while Auburn barely got by Louisiana-Monroe. Auburn has too many questions remaining to hang with the other Tigers. ... LSU 38, Auburn 10

Chris Low: The battle of the Tigers has been one of the most entertaining rivalries in the SEC over the past decade, but a more physical and more talented LSU team is poised to make it two blowouts in a row. … LSU 31, Auburn 13

RUTGERS AT ARKANSAS

Edward Aschoff: The Razorbacks are at a real low point right now, while Rutgers is riding a three-game winning streak. Tyler Wilson is still questionable and Rutgers' running game is much improved. That's bad news for the Hogs. ... Rutgers 24, Arkansas 20

Chris Low: With or without Tyler Wilson, the Hogs have to figure out a way to stop somebody. They’ve given up 110 points in three games, but the bleeding stops Saturday. … Arkansas 34, Rutgers 21

VANDERBILT AT GEORGIA

Edward Aschoff: Last year's game had a very dramatic ending, both in the game and after it. The Commodores are fired up for this one, but Georgia just has more going for it all around. ... Georgia 31, Vanderbilt 14

Chris Low: The game last year ended with James Franklin and Todd Grantham going nose-to-nose. That little dust-up will ensure that the Bulldogs don’t sleepwalk into this game. … Georgia 35, Vanderbilt 14

MISSOURI AT SOUTH CAROLINA

Edward Aschoff: Both teams have banged-up quarterbacks, and while both could play, we aren't sure how long either will be in. This one will come down to line play, and South Carolina has the advantage both ways. ... South Carolina 27, Missouri 20

Chris Low: It’s Columbia versus Columbia. It’s also one banged-up quarterback versus another banged-up quarterback. The difference will be a South Carolina defensive line that takes over in the second half. … South Carolina 27, Missouri 21

What to watch in the SEC: Week 3

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
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We're heading into Week 3 in the SEC, so here's what to watch:

1. Quarterback health: The statuses of Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and South Carolina's Connor Shaw are still unknown. Wilson suffered a head injury against Louisiana-Monroe, while Shaw is still nursing a bruised shoulder from Week 1. For the Gamecocks, losing Shaw for the second straight week won't really hurt South Carolina's offense. It was just fine without him against East Carolina. However, Arkansas isn't in the same position. Brandon Allen completed just 6 of 20 passes against Louisiana-Monroe in place of Wilson. Not having Wilson will make Saturday's game against No. 1 Alabama that much tougher for the Razorbacks.

[+] EnlargeJohn L. Smith
AP Photo/Danny JohnstonCoach John L. Smith and his Razorbacks face a formidable foe in No. 1 Alabama this week.
2. Arkansas' defense: Speaking of the Razorbacks, what has happened to that defense? It was supposed to be more aggressive and more disciplined under Paul Haynes. We saw neither in the second half against Louisiana-Monroe, as the Razorbacks blew a 21-point lead. The defense was shredded against a lesser opponent and now has to play one of the most balanced attacks in the SEC. Last year, Alabama wore down this defense. If Arkansas is going to pick itself up, it has to play much tougher than it has in the first two games. Alabama has far more talent than Arkansas' first opponents and has the capability to really beat this unit down.

3. Tennessee’s passing game vs. Florida’s secondary: This game always comes down to the running game, but the difference this time will be Tennessee's passing game against Florida’s secondary. The Gators are loaded with talent back there and made tremendous strides during the second half of the Texas A&M game, while Tennessee might have the best passing game in the SEC, led by quarterback Tyler Bray. The matchups between Justin Hunter and Marcus Roberson and Cordarrelle Patterson and Loucheiz Purifoy should be great. Zach Rogers is another deep threat the Gators have to be careful about, but Matt Elam has the ability to take the deep ball away for Florida. Should be fun.

4. Must-wins: Both Auburn and Vanderbilt are 0-2 and are coming off tough losses. The Commodores blew a halftime lead at Northwestern, while Auburn was overmatched across the board at Mississippi State. The Tigers are struggling with or without the ball this season, and that's a major concern. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier has to get going, and he's facing the team that just knocked off Arkansas. Vandy just can't get anything going on offense. The explosion we expected to see has been mostly absent through two games and the Commodores have to generate some sort of offensive momentum this weekend against Presbyterian.

5. Mississippi State keeping its edge: Now that Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs have gotten over the hump of beating a West opponent not named Ole Miss, the Bulldogs can’t get complacent. That was just one win, and this team has far bigger goals than just beating Auburn. With the schedule Mississippi State has, it’s very possible the Bulldogs could be 6-1 or 7-0 heading into the Alabama game at the end of October. But this team has to focus on Troy and come out strong against a team that won’t be a pushover.

6. Showdown in the Grove: It’s been a long time since a game in Oxford got attention like Saturday’s showdown with Texas has been receiving. It’s eerily similar to the 2003 game with Eli Manning and LSU, although there isn’t hatred in the air. The Grove is gonna be poppin’ and Oxford is expected to double in size. There’s more confidence around that town because Ole Miss is 2-0 for the first time since 2009. The talent difference between Ole Miss and Texas is obvious, but the Rebels have some momentum and some conviction. Can the Rebels stop that burnt orange wave coming to town?

7. The newbie's returns: Missouri and Texas A&M got a nice taste of what life will be like in the SEC last weekend. Now, it's time for both teams to regroup. Both teams lost a lot of steam in the second half, which was expected. Missouri has the challenge of playing Arizona State and its high-flying offense. The Sun Devils have averaged 54 points through two games, averaging 532 offensive yards in the process. The Tigers got into a shootout with Arizona State last year, but can they handle another one after that physical loss to Georgia? The Aggies are taking on SMU in Dallas, and are also recovering from a tough loss to Florida. This is a game where Texas A&M should try to get more out of its running game, which has to generate more production up the middle.

8. Mettenberger’s arm: Through the first two games of the season, we’ve been anxiously waiting to see what Zach Mettenberger could really do in LSU’s offense. So far, he’s yet to eclipse the 200-yard passing mark in a game and has just two touchdowns -- pedestrian numbers compared to what everyone expected. But the Tigers have utilized their running game flawlessly and haven’t needed to send the ball downfield much. Saturday, that should change. It’s time to unleash Mettenberger and get him going more in the offense before LSU gets into conference play.

9. Lattimore’s workload: If Steve Spurrier wanted to push Marcus Lattimore anymore last week, he would have. But the Head Ball Coach gave his workhorse a bit of a rest against East Carolina, running him just 13 times. Maybe Spurrier just wanted to get his new quarterback, Dylan Thompson, a chance to show his stuff in place of Shaw. But as Lattimore continues to return from his knee injury, he’ll need to get more reps and get more comfortable on the field before league play revs up. UAB should provide him the opportunity to do that.

10. Florida’s winning streak: The Gators have had Tennessee’s number for seven straight years now. Not since Dallas Baker’s infamous slap in Knoxville have the Vols bested Florida. This might be Tennessee’s best shot since. There’s no question that this is the best and most complete Vols team Derek Dooley has had. The Vols have cruised through the first two weeks, while Florida’s offense stumbles in with a lot of uncertainty concerning the passing game. Florida might have the edge on defense, but Tennessee’s offense knows how to put up points. Is this the year Tennessee finally gets the Gator off its back?

SEC power rankings: Week 2

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
9:00
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The first weekend of the college football season brought some changes to our power rankings. As we enter Week 2, some teams are trending down, while others are on the up. And some look pretty much like we thought they'd look in their first games.

It's still early, but this weekend could help to better shape the conference race, especially in the SEC East where Florida travels to Texas A&M and Georgia heads to Missouri. Also, keep an eye on Mississippi State's home game with Auburn.

OK, time for the rankings:

1. Alabama (1-0): The Crimson Tide made quite the statement by absolutely dominating No. 8 Michigan inside Cowboys Stadium. The defense, which lost a host of top talent from last year's national championship team, took Denard Robinson out of the game from the start. The offense should be fun to watch this fall with freshman T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy carrying the ball and AJ McCarron throwing to those young, explosive receivers.

2. LSU (1-0): It's not like the Tigers looked bad against overmatched North Texas, but Alabama's performance was just that good. Zach Mettenberger did well in his LSU debut, passing for 192 yards and a touchdown, while running backs Kenny Hilliard (141 yards) and Alfred Blue (123) pounded away at North Texas' defense. The Tigers racked up 508 total yards and limited North Texas to just nine first downs and 219 total yards.

3. Arkansas (1-0): We know Arkansas can score and churn out yards. The Hogs made both of those things look very easy against Jacksonville State, especially quarterback Tyler Wilson, who threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns Saturday. But the defense still has some questions surrounding it, as the Hogs gave up 24 points. The defense settled down the second half and gave up 322 total yards, which was one yard less than the average given up by top 15 teams this weekend.

4. Georgia (1-0): The Bulldogs' defense is obviously hurting without Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree and it showed in the win over Buffalo. There was a lot of give in the pass defense and the Bulldogs struggled stopping quarterback runs. Improving in both of those areas will be crucial heading into the Missouri game. The offense looked pretty good, especially with freshman running back Todd Gurley carrying the ball. He registered 100 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

5. South Carolina (1-0): The offense was shaky when it came to throwing the ball, and it certainly wasn't any better after quarterback Connor Shaw went down with that shoulder injury. His health is critical, as there isn't much experience at all behind him. Running back Marcus Lattimore looked solid in his return and was back to his workhorse ways. The defense played well overall, but the secondary still has concerns.

6. Tennessee (1-0): Everything went right for the Vols against NC State. It became blatenly obvious that they have more depth across the board now than they've had during Derek Dooley's tenure. Getting the tough yards running the ball was still an issue at times, but Marlin Lane showed that he might have what it takes to be that explosive running back Tennessee needs. Tyler Bray had no issue throwing the ball with Justin Hunter back and newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson going off.

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Week 2 in the SEC

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
1:05
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Here's a quick primer for Week 2 in the SEC:

SATURDAY

Auburn (0-1) at Mississippi State (1-0), Noon ET, ESPN: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is looking for his first win against a West opponent not named Ole Miss. Auburn is looking to rebound after its rush defense was shredded against Clemson. It won't get easier for that defense Saturday. This game set the tone for both teams last year and probably will again.

East Carolina (1-0) at No. 9 South Carolina (1-0), 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network: Quarterback Connor Shaw's shoulder will be monitored all week, and the receivers have got to step up this week. The good news is that Marcus Lattimore shook off the rust early in his return against Vanderbilt and is back to his bullish ways. The Gamecocks know all too well that they can't sleep on the Pirates, so the focus should be good this week.

No. 23 Florida (1-0) at Texas A&M (0-0), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Gators have named Jeff Driskel the starting quarterback and that's a step in the right direction. This offense struggled mightily in the opener, but now those players know who their quarterback is. That can only help with chemistry and timing. The Aggies are opening the season with Florida after their original opener was postponed. Florida's defense could provide first-time starting quarterback Johnny Manziel with a bunch of problems, but this team will be itching to get on the field. Expect an electric environment in College Station.

Western Kentucky (1-0) at No. 2 Alabama (1-0), 3:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network: The defending champs proved to still have a little something left in the tank after routing Michigan on Saturday. The secondary needs some work, especially on the deep ball, but this will be a chance for the Tide to work out some of those kinks. Expect Alabama's offense to try and go down field with its passing game even more in Week 2.

(Read full post)

What to watch in the SEC: Week 1

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
10:15
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It's here.

After hundreds of days of having to watch and follow inferior sports, take up new hobbies and do extra cute things with your better half just to pass the time, we are finally here.

It's college football season, again! The helmets are perfectly shined. The jerseys are hung so neatly and ironed so sweetly. You've gone to the store in advance to prep for the artery-bursting feast that awaits this weekend. Some are even lucky enough to be tailgating as we speak!

Cue up the bands, the grills and the fryers and the big-screen TVs. It's football season, and here's what to watch in the SEC this week:

[+] EnlargeMarcus Lattimore
C. Michael Bergen/The State/MCT/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina's Marcus Lattimore is one of three star running backs to keep an eye on this weekend.
1. Running backs return: If not for Texas A&M’s game getting postponed, we’d get to see three elite running backs returning to the field after injuries cut their 2011 seasons short. Christine Michael's debut will have to wait, but we’ll still get to see how South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Arkansas’ Knile Davis do with the ball in their hands. When they’re 100 percent, it’s hard to find two better running backs out there.

2. Quarterback battles: Florida and Ole Miss still don’t know who their starting quarterbacks will be. Florida coach Will Muschamp said Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will alternate quarters to start Saturday’s game, while Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze anticipates playing both Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti in the opener. This could be the final round of competition at both schools.

3. Questionable offensive lines: So many offensive lines have questions entering the fall. Keep an eye on Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Auburn and Georgia are working in a few new parts, while Florida is hoping most of the parts from last year’s line have improved. Mizzou has all sorts of injury issues and Kentucky, Ole Miss and Vandy are just hoping to stay healthy because depth is an issue for all three.

4. More passing yards: Last year, SEC quarterbacks were laughed at. It seems like that won’t be the case in 2012. Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Tyler Bray and Tyler Wilson could all throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, while Missouri’s James Franklin has arguably the best pass-run ability in the league. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers is a year older and wiser, while Zach Mettenberger is a major upgrade for LSU. If Connor Shaw learns to be more of a pass-first player, he could have a big year.

5. Athletic multitasking: Two players to keep both eyes on this weekend are Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell and Ole Miss’ Randall Mackey. Mitchell will start at cornerback, but Mark Richt would like to play him at wide receiver and possibly have him return punts and kickoffs. He certainly is talented enough to do it, but I hope he gets a lot of sleep and loads up on 5-hour Energy. Mackey will start at running back, but since he’s played both quarterback and receiver for the Rebels, his coaches would like to move him around some. Expect him to line up out wide and as a Wildcat quarterback against Central Arkansas.

6. First days on the job: There will be a lot of debuts this weekend. Freeze will coach his first game at Ole Miss, Mettenberger takes over as LSU’s quarterback and Kiehl Frazier makes his first start at quarterback for Auburn. Freeze isn’t sure what he’ll see, but he’s looking to bring the Rebels’ fan base some much-needed excitement. Mettenberger has bided his time at both Georgia and LSU, but is finally the man. And Frazier can now call Auburn his team. He gets a very suspect defense in Clemson to start.

7. Alabama’s defense: There’s no question that Alabama lost a lot of talent from last year’s historic defense, but the thought is that the Tide will do more reloading than rebuilding. It will get a good first test against Michigan’s high-flying spread offense led by potential Heisman candidate in quarterback Denard Robinson. Nick Saban is still looking for key leaders to emerge, and he thinks he’ll finally find them come Saturday’s game. The key for this defense is getting out faster than it did when it was in a similar situation in 2010.

8. Tennessee’s passing game vs. NC State’s pass defense: Derek Dooley entered the season with a potent passing game, but the loss of Da’Rick Rogers suddenly makes that receiving depth not so attractive. Justin Hunter might be a little rusty and he’ll have a matchup with another potential first-rounder in corner David Amerson. We don’t know what Cordarrelle Patterson will do and he’ll battle Dontae Johnson, who beat out the talented C.J. Johnson before he was ruled ineligible. Dooley said he’s “very concerned” about his receivers, and this battle could determine Friday’s outcome.

9. Vanderbilt’s swagger: Thursday night is a chance for Vandy to make a strong statement to the rest of the SEC. Some are questioning if Vandy will build off of last year’s rebound or revert back to its old ways. The Dores don’t have to beat South Carolina, but they do have to show that same confidence they had last year and that they won’t back down.

10. Possible suspensions: It wouldn’t be opening day without some sort of controversy. Georgia starters Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree both reportedly failed drug tests this spring, and suspensions were expected. But Richt has been very quiet about it and has told everyone to wait until Saturday. Can’t wait …
Alabama could be without one of its top young receivers for the 2012 season, as true freshman Chris Black will miss three to four months after injuring his shoulder during practice on Sunday.

Nick Saban said Black will need surgery to repair his shoulder.

Black, who was part of a highly-touted receiver class for the Crimson Tide, enrolled at Alabama in January. By all accounts, he had a pretty solid spring and caught three passes for 61 yards and a 44-yard touchdown in Alabama's spring game.

The former Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast standout was the No. 2-rated wide receiver coming out of high school and had the potential to be a deep-play threat in Alabama's offense.

"He wants to play so bad he can't see straight," Saban told reporters Thursday. "This is one of the unfortunate things. We feel bad for him, but everybody here is going to be very, very supportive, and he's going to be an excellent player for us in the future."

The good news for Alabama is there is good depth at receiver. Juniors Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell are looking to make names for themselves this season, while the team has been impressed by youngsters Amari Cooper, who enrolled early, Eddie Williams and Cyrus Jones. Sophomores DeAndrew White and Christion Jones also have big-play potential.

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The SEC's impact transfers in 2012

July, 17, 2012
7/17/12
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Transfers can often times be the great equalizer, both junior college transfers and major college transfers.

It’s safe to say that Cam Newton made a difference on Auburn’s 2010 national championship team. And for that matter, so did Nick Fairley. Both were junior college transfers.

A year ago, cornerback DeQuan Menzie was a stabilizing force in Alabama’s defensive secondary and one of the Crimson Tide’s most dependable players on their 2011 national championship team. Menzie was also a junior college transfer.

Terrence Cody, yet another junior college transfer, was a major part of Alabama’s 2009 national championship defense.

Who will be those impact transfers in 2012 that make a difference? Here are 10 to watch in the SEC. They’re listed alphabetically:

[+] Enlarge Jay Prosch
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstIllinois transfer Jay Prosch will be eligible to take the field for Auburn this season.
Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State: One of the most heralded junior college prospects in the country, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Autry made quite an impression this spring. He’s an explosive pass-rusher the Bulldogs hope will give them the edge pressure they lacked last season.

Deion Belue, CB, Alabama: It didn’t take Belue long to make his presence felt this spring. He took an interception back 97 yards for a touchdown in the Crimson Tide’s first scrimmage. Belue’s a quick learner and one of the favorites to start at the other cornerback opposite Dee Milliner.

Pierce Burton, OT, Ole Miss: He started his career at San Jose State and then transferred to City College of San Francisco. It looked like Burton would continue his career at Florida, but Hugh Freeze was able to sway him to Ole Miss. Burton was good enough this spring that he’ll go into the season as the Rebels’ starting right tackle.

Austin Flynn, DE, Arkansas: The Hogs already needed some pass-rushing help at end with Jake Bequette departing. That need was only magnified after Tenarius Wright moved to linebacker this spring. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Flynn was a big get out of junior college and showed the kind of strength and power this spring that could make him an immediate starter.

Damien Jacobs, DT, Florida: Originally committed to Tennessee out of East Mississippi Community College, Jacobs changed his mind and signed with the Gators. Florida coach Will Muschamp liked what he saw this spring and thinks the 6-foot-3, 310-pound Jacobs will be a big part of the rotation at tackle this fall.

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Ranking the SEC tight ends

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
7:05
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Now that we've ranked the top 10 wide receivers, it's time to check out the top tight ends.

Past rankings
Here are our top 10 SEC tight ends:

[+] EnlargePhilip Lutzenkirchen
Butch Dill/Getty ImagesPhilip Lutzenkirchen will be Auburn's go-to guy for game-winning scores this season.
1. Chris Gragg, Sr., Arkansas: Gragg is a big, fast target who can cause mismatches for defenders. He has great hands and with the loss of three NFL wide receivers he'll be one of Tyler Wilson's top targets this fall. Expect him to improve on his 41 catches and 518 yards from last year.

2. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Sr., Auburn: He only caught 24 passes last year, but seven of those catches went for touchdowns. He's a big-time threat in the red zone and is a solid blocker as well. The addition of fullback Jay Prosch will give Lutzenkirchen a chance to be even more active in the receiving game.

3. Jordan Reed, Jr., Florida: There's no doubt that Reed is extremely athletic, but he can lose focus at times on the field. Still, when he's on the ball, he can make plenty of plays. He's the Gators' top returning receiving target and with two young quarterbacks throwing this year, Reed has the chance to rack up receptions as a close-to-the-line safety net.

4. Mychal Rivera, Sr., Tennessee: Rivera is a very reliable and consistent weapon for the Vols. Even with Justin Hunter coming back and Cordarrelle Patterson jumping into the receiving mix, Rivera might not see his production drop too much if Tyler Bray can stay health. This team will throw it around as much as possible.

5. Michael Williams, Sr., Alabama: Williams only caught 17 passes last year, but there were a couple more proven players around him. This time around, his experience will be valued more by quarterback AJ McCarron. He's a solid player and can be a beast on the field, so the coaches are expecting to get a lot more out of him this fall.

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Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

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Post-signing day SEC Power Rankings

February, 6, 2012
2/06/12
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Now that national signing day is out of the way, we're going to take another look at our SEC power rankings.

You won't see any change really, but we have more confidence in some teams now than we did before:

1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide hauled in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class last week and not only did Nick Saban sign a handful of top-rated players, but he met all of Alabama's major needs with the 2012 class. There are a few freshmen who could make early impacts in Tuscaloosa, including athlete Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold), and wide receivers Chris Black (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) and Amari Cooper (Miami, Fla./Miami Northwestern).

2. LSU: The Tigers' class wasn't as highly rated as some recent ones, but Les Miles and his coaches brought in a solid group and there are a few defense players who might see some playing time early. Three starting linebackers need to be replaced and a few freshmen will get their chances. While LSU lost Torshiro Davis ((Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) flipped to Texas, the Tigers brought in ESPNU 150 linebackers Kwon Alexander (Oxford, Ala.) and Ronnie Feist (Edgard, La./West Saint John).

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs needed to get bigger up front and add a couple of playmaking linebackers. Georgia did just that with the handful of athletic defensive linemen signed and grabbed top outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes), who should thrive in Todd Grantham's 3-4. Georgia's offense could be even better this fall with Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C./Millbrook) helping Isaiah Crowell, and the wide receiver depth returning.

4. South Carolina: Talk about underrated. South Carolina didn't make much noise at all on national signing day, but the Gamecocks brought in a very balanced class and have a few players who should contribute early to a team that will yet again compete for the SEC East title. Two freshmen to keep an eye on in 2012 are wide receiver Shaq Roland (Lexington, S.C.) and safety Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker).

5. Arkansas: It seemed like the Razorbacks were headed for a very strong finish to its 2012 recruiting class, but watched as top receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo./Hillcrest) and four-star offensive tackle Jordan Diamond (Chicago, Ill./Simeon) committed elsewhere. However, Arkansas is still waiting on top athlete Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and signed some pretty talented wide receivers to add to that high-flying offense. Defensive depth was a need and Arkansas added six defensive linemen and snatched Tennessee linebacker commit Otha Peters (Covington, La./Covington) late.

6. Auburn: Before Auburn could complete its recruiting class, it had to find someone to run its offense. The Tigers lured Scot Loeffler away from Temple, getting a coach who knows a thing about teaching quarterbacks. Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier should be ecstatic. The loss of Michael Dyer hurts, but Auburn has a stable of running backs to work with and signed one of the best offensive line classes around. Also, athlete Ricardo Louis (Miami Beach, Fla/Miami Beach Senior) could be a real playmaker at wide receiver.

7. Florida: Will Muschamp wanted his team to get tougher and he took a step in the right direction by hitting the line of scrimmage hard in his first full recruiting class. He also got a big back in Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) and having D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) in early should really help the offensive line. Florida is also waiting for a potential receiving threat in Stefon Diggs (Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel). Muschamp feels better about this team's attitude and expects a more resilient squad in 2012.

8. Missouri: These Tigers could come in and frustrate some of its new SEC East family with the depth it returns. No one is quite sure if top running back Henry Josey will return in 2012 after a major knee injury, but the Tigers added a very complete back in Morgan Steward (Kansas City, Mo./Staley), who could compete for playing time early. But Missouri took home the biggest national signing day prize when Green-Beckham picked Missouri. Mizzou lacked a big-play receiving threat until now.

9. Tennessee: There is a lot of talent returning in Knoxville and the Vols added some quality depth with its 2012 recruiting class. Tennessee took a hit when top inside linebacker Dalton Santos (Van, Texas) flipped to Texas and needed to add a big-time running back to help that offense, but grabbing junior college wide receiver Cordarrelle Paterson (Rock Hill, S.C./Hutchinson Community College) was big. He'll add to an already solid receiving tandem and could provide more leadership. Tyler Bray should have a fun offseason.

10. Texas A&M: The Aggies lose a lot heading into their first season as a part of the SEC Western Division, but helped the future by signing a top-25 class. Running back Trey Williams (Houston, Texas/Andy Dekaney) could provide an early spark for the offense with Cyrus Gray leaving. The receivers got some needed help with the signing of No. 3 receiver Thomas Johnson of Dallas, and outside linebacker Jordan Richmond (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan) should see early playing time as well.

11. Vanderbilt: James Franklin's first full class at Vanderbilt was a total success. He showed that he won't just compete on the field with the SEC big boys but he'll recruit with them too. He beat out a few bigger schools for ESPNU 150 athlete Brian Kimbrow (Memphis, Tenn./East) and the Commodores added a lot of bigger bodies up front and at linebacker. Vandy's veterans shouldn't have an issue mingling with this solid recruiting class.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will head into the spring looking to jump start their offense. There is a lot of depth and three senior starters returning at wide receiver, but some oomph needs to return to this offense. It's officially Tyler Russell's time at QB and LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin could be a powerful one-two running back punch. Where Mississippi State really struck gold in recruiting was up front, where the Bulldogs added three top defensive linemen, including No. 13 tackle Quay Evans (Morton, Miss.).

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats need playmakers on offense and having running back Josh Clemons come back at full health this year, will go a long way. But Kentucky desperately needed to add more with its 2012 recruiting class. The Wildcats are hoping dual-threat quarterback Patrick Towles (Fort Thomas, Ky./Highlands) can help in that department. Kentucky won't get anywhere without developing the talent already on campus and that's most important at this point.

14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze had some defensive success in his first recruiting class as the Rebels' head coach. There is a good foundation with ESPNU 150 defensive tackle Issac Gross of Batesville, Miss., and ESPNU 150 defensive end Channing Ward of Aberdeen, Miss., and the secondary got a boost when safety Trae Elston (Oxford, Ala.) picked Ole Miss over LSU. Now, Freeze turns his attention to players a part of a two-win 2011 season. Generating discipline and finding leaders are key for a program glued to the bottom of the SEC.

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