Alabama Crimson Tide: Jeff Scott

Here's a good way to survive the dog days of summer -- relive the glory of last year's best college football games.

ESPNU will count down the top 25 games and air all but four of them July 21-Aug. 3. Of course the SEC is well-represented. Game Nos. 6-25 have already been determined. Here's a look.

No. 23 -- Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42
Re-airdate: July 22, 7 p.m. ET
This Week 3 contest was a much-anticipated grudge match after Johnny Manziel and the upstart Aggies had upset the mighty Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2012. The return engagement had fireworks from the start, as A&M's 628 yards were the most given up in Alabama's history.

No. 20 -- Georgia 44, LSU 41
Re-airdate: July 23, 10 p.m. ET
Two teams ranked in the top 10 slugged it out to the tune of nearly 1,000 combined yards, as the quarterback performances by Georgia's Aaron Murray and former teammate Zach Mettenberger were among the best of their careers.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Ray
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsNick Marshall & Co. were involved in four of the season's top 25 games, including three within the top 4.
No. 17 -- Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41
Re-airdate: July 25, 7 p.m. ET
Looking back, this huge upset on the road might have fueled Auburn's amazing season. One year after being beaten 63-21 by the Aggies, the Tigers roared back to national prominence behind QB Nick Marshall and RB Tre Mason. The Auburn defense gave up more than 500 yards to Manziel but came through in the end to preserve the win.
No. 15 -- Georgia 34, Tennessee 31 (OT)
Re-airdate: July 28, 7 p.m. ET
Just think of how differently we would have viewed UT's season had the Vols pulled off this upset. Georgia withstood injuries and a determined Tennessee team, and rallied to tie the game with five seconds left when Murray found Rantavious Wooten for a touchdown. UT's Alton Howard fumbled a sure touchdown in overtime, which set up UGA's game-winning field goal.
No. 11 -- Ole Miss 39, Vanderbilt 35
Re-airdate: July 29, 10 p.m. ET
The opening game of the season set a clear tone for high-scoring offense and thrilling late-game heroics. Vandy raced to a 21-10 halftime lead and then gave up 29 points, including a back-breaking 75-yard touchdown run by Jeff Scott with just over a minute to play.
No. 7 -- South Carolina 27, Missouri 24 (OT)
Re-airdate: July 31, 10 p.m. ET
Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw came off the bench to score 17 fourth-quarter points to send this one into overtime, where the teams traded touchdowns before USC won it with a kick. Missouri was slapped with its first loss of the season, but the Tigers won the rest of their games and the SEC East crown.

Now we need your help choosing a top five, and again the SEC is prominent with four choices available. Voting ends Monday. If you need help deciding, here's how I would rank 'em.

No. 5 -- Texas A&M 52, Duke 48
Manziel penned a memorable swan song in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as the Aggies and Blue Devils piled up more than 1,200 yards of offense. Manziel passed for 382 yards and four touchdowns, ran for 73 yards and one TD, and led his team back from a 21-point halftime deficit.

No. 4 -- Florida State 34, Auburn 31
The Tigers' miracle season came crashing down when FSU rallied from an 18-point deficit, the largest ever overcome in a BCS championship game. A thrilling fourth quarter closed with Heisman winner Jameis Winston leading the Noles 80 yards in 66 seconds for the win.

No. 2 -- Auburn 43, Georgia 38
Any time a game evokes a nickname it has also earned a place in college football lore. This game got two of them -- "The Prayer at Jordan-Hare" and "The Immaculate Deflection" -- thanks to a 73-yard Hail Mary touchdown that Bulldogs safety Josh Harvey-Clemons tipped to Auburn's Ricardo Louis.

No. 1 -- Auburn 34, Alabama 28
Is there any doubt which game transcended the 2013 season into the history books? With his improbable, last-second, missed field-goal return, Chris Davis' 109-yard touchdown run -- the "Kick Six" -- was forever branded on the sport's collective consciousness.



Ranking the SEC kick returners

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
10:00
AM ET
Projecting a top 10 among kick returners from the SEC is difficult at this point, as many of those jobs will be up for grabs once preseason practice opens in August.

For instance, who will replace All-American Odell Beckham at LSU? It’s too early to know for sure, but you can bet he will probably be good enough to include on this list once the season gets rolling.

We do, however, know the identities of some of the SEC’s top return men -- starting with the ridiculously talented Christion Jones, Andre Debose and Marcus Murphy. We’ll take an educated guess at some of the other spots in today’s SEC kick return rankings.

[+] EnlargeChristion Jones
Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsElectric return man Christion Jones can be a game-changer for the Crimson Tide.
1. Christion Jones, Alabama: How good is Jones? The SEC’s career leader in kickoff return touchdowns (Debose) is on this list and we’re ranking Jones ahead of him. It’s just plain scary to kick the ball in Jones’ direction as his ranking second in the SEC in both kickoff returns (28.7 yards per return) and punt returns (14.0 ypr), plus his three return touchdowns last season, would indicate.

2. Andre Debose, Florida: Debose would have been a candidate for the top spot, but we’re not sure what kind of player he will be when he returns from a torn ACL suffered during preseason camp last season. If his speed and mobility come back, we’re talking about one of the most electric kick returners in SEC history.

3. Marcus Murphy, Missouri: A 2012 All-SEC pick who is capable of garnering All-America attention, particularly because of his skills as a punt returner, Murphy is one of the key returnees for a Tigers club that lost a lot of firepower. He scored 10 touchdowns on offense last season, but didn’t notch a TD on special teams a season after he found the end zone four times on returns. Murphy will compete for the starting tailback job, but thus far his biggest impact at Mizzou has come while serving as an excellent return man.

4. Devrin Young, Tennessee: A breakout candidate for the Vols before a broken hand cost him nearly half of the 2013 season, Young could be a huge difference maker for Tennessee this fall. He’s already fifth in Tennessee history with 1,575 career total kick and punt return yards. If he stays healthy, Young will move up that list in the fall.

5. Trey Williams, Texas A&M: His primary objective is probably to claim the starting running back job, but Williams is also scary as a return specialist. The shifty and lightning-quick junior ranked fifth in the SEC with an average of 25.2 ypr on kickoffs last season, a season after earning SEC All-Freshman team honors as a return man.

6. Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: It looks like both the kick and punt return jobs belong to Cooper after he handled those duties much of the time in 2013. He was a solid kickoff return man (22.4 ypr) and averaged 4.4 yards on nine punt returns. Cooper looks like a Bruce Ellington clone, possessing the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways -- particularly as a return specialist.

[+] EnlargeCorey Grant
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMICorey Grant could have a big season for the Tigers.
7. Corey Grant, Auburn: Grant hasn’t won this job yet, but he seems like a good choice to take over for Tre Mason. He averaged 10.0 yards per carry out of the backfield and 32.0 ypr in just five kickoff returns -- one of which went 90 yards for a touchdown against Tennessee. He has breakaway speed that Auburn’s coaches have to like in this role.

8. Jaylen Walton, Ole Miss: Another guy competing for a 2014 starting running back job, the diminutive Walton was impressive as a return man last season. In addition to his 523 rushing yards as a backfield mate for Jeff Scott and I’Tavius Mathers, he contributed 25 kickoff returns for 515 yards, good for a team-best average of 20.6 ypr.

9. De’Vante Harris, Texas A&M: A solid if unspectacular performer, Harris ranked sixth in the SEC with an average of 6.7 yards per punt return a season ago. He broke the Aggies’ season-long punt return in a win over SMU, snapping off a 30-yard runback.

10. Brandon Holloway, Mississippi State: Let’s make a speculative pick here. Holloway has nowhere near as much experience as Jameon Lewis as a return man, but he made some noise in limited action last season. As a full-time returner, he could become a star – although his hopes of becoming the Bulldogs’ running back might interfere. Holloway averaged 37.7 ypr on three kickoff returns, thanks in large part to a 95-yard runback against Alcorn State, and also had a 23-yard punt return in the Egg Bowl and a 13-yard return in the bowl win over Rice.
Today, our SEC position-by-position rankings move to an area that will see plenty of turnover throughout the league: special teams.

There are a ton of SEC heavyweights who lost key special teamers, like league champ Auburn -- which lost punter Steven Clark, kicker Cody Parkey, now-legendary return man Chris Davis and kickoff returner/tailback Tre Mason -- LSU (All-American Odell Beckham) and Alabama (punter Cody Mandell and kicker Cade Foster). That’s just a start.

The league is full of dynamic playmakers who can become stars in the return game, but as of right now, many SEC teams have questions to answer on special teams. That’s why teams that have returning veterans at those positions sit high in our rankings.

Special teams position rankings

1. Texas A&M: There aren’t many SEC teams that can make this claim, but the Aggies have a clean sweep of returning specialists. Leading the way is an All-American and Ruy Guy Award finalist at punter, Drew Kaser, who broke the school record with a 47.4-yard average last season. Texas A&M also has kicker Josh Lambo (8-for-10 on field goals in 2013), kickoff returner Trey Williams (25.2 yards per return, fifth in the SEC) and punt returner De’Vante Harris (6.7 yards per return, sixth in the SEC) back this fall. That’s a solid collection of talent that should help an Aggies team that certainly has some questions to answer on offense and defense.

2. Missouri: This is another squad that returns the key figures from a season ago, led by versatile return man Marcus Murphy. Murphy was fifth in the SEC in punt returns (7.0) and 11th in kickoff returns (22.2) while also contributing to the Tigers’ solid running game. Andrew Baggett (18-for-25 on field goals, 8.6 points per game) was the SEC’s second-leading scorer among kickers, and he returns along with punter Christian Brinser (41.0 yards per punt).

3. Georgia: Truth be told, Georgia was frequently terrible on special teams last season. The Bulldogs struggled to generate much of anything in the return game and experienced some issues with blocked punts. Coach Mark Richt changed the way the coaching staff will address special teams during the offseason, and perhaps that will make a difference. The individual specialists are actually pretty good -- particularly kicker Marshall Morgan, who should generate some All-America attention himself. Morgan was 22-for-24 (91.7 percent) and led all SEC kickers with an average of 10.3 points per game, truly one of the best seasons by a kicker in school history. Punters Collin Barber and Adam Erickson were mostly average, which is more than can be said for the Bulldogs’ return men. Keep an eye on freshman Isaiah McKenzie in August to see if he has a chance to contribute in the return game.

4. LSU: The return game will certainly suffer a blow without electric All-American Beckham -- the winner of last season’s Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player -- but LSU has no shortage of athletic players (running back Terrence Magee is one option) whom the coaches can plug into Beckham’s old spots. The Tigers are solid at kicker with Colby Delahoussaye, who led the SEC by making 92.9 percent of his field goals (13 of 14). They held a competition for the punting job during the spring between hot-and-cold Jamie Keehn (41.0 ypp) and walk-on Trent Domingue.

5. South Carolina: Here’s another one where experience helps, although the Gamecocks have much to improve upon this season. Punter Tyler Hull (37.8 ypp) is back, but South Carolina ranked last in the SEC with an average of 34.1 net yards per punt. They were mediocre both returning and covering kickoffs and at returning punts, although Pharoh Cooper (22.4 ypr on kickoffs and 4.4 ypr on punts) might be a breakout candidate for the Gamecocks this fall. Elliott Fry was a solid performer (15-for-18 on field goals, fourth in the SEC with 7.6 ppg) at place-kicker in 2013.

6. Alabama: The Crimson Tide should rank higher on this list by season’s end. After all, they have arguably the SEC’s top return man in Christion Jones (second in the league with 28.7 ypr on kickoffs and second with 14.0 ypr on punts). But they also lost a dynamic punter in Mandell and a place-kicker, Foster, who was solid last season before melting down in the Iron Bowl. Perhaps Adam Griffith (1-for-3 on field goals) will take over the kicking job, but Alabama also has high hopes for signee J.K. Scott, who is capable of kicking or punting in college.

7. Arkansas: The rankings start getting murky around the middle of the pack. Arkansas has a phenomenal punter back in ambidextrous Australian Sam Irwin-Hill (44.3 ypp, fifth in the SEC), but the Razorbacks also lost kicker Zach Hocker (13-for-15 on field goals) and punt returner Javontee Herndon. Kickoff returner Korliss Marshall (22.2 ypr, 10th in the SEC) is back. It would be huge for Arkansas if signee Cole Hedlund, USA Today’s first-team All-USA kicker for the Class of 2014, can come in and take over Hocker’s job.

8. Florida: We’re speculating here that Andre Debose comes back healthy and reclaims his job as the Gators’ kickoff return man. That would be a big deal since Debose is tied for the SEC’s career lead with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. Now-departed Solomon Patton did a great job in his place last season, averaging 29.2 ypr. The Gators also lost punt returner Marcus Roberson (9.2 ypr). The big issue, though, is at kicker, where former top kicking prospect Austin Hardin (4-for-12 on field goals) was awful last season and eventually gave way to Francisco Velez (6-for-8). Likewise, Johnny Townsend (42.0 ypp) took over at punter for former Groza finalist Kyle Christy (39.6) because of a slump, although both are back.

9. Kentucky: Although the Wildcats lost a solid kicker in Joe Mansour (12-for-14 on field goals), they still have several solid players returning. They include punt returner Demarco Robinson (10.4 ypr), kickoff returner Javess Blue (20.4 ypr) and punter Landon Foster (41.3 ypp). Austin MacGinnis, one of the nation’s better kicking prospects in 2013, claimed the place-kicking job during spring practice.

10. Auburn: As with Alabama, we expect Auburn to move up this list during the season. They have the No. 1 kicking prospect from 2013, redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson, taking over for Parkey at place-kicker. They have speedster Corey Grant as an option at kickoff return. And they have another talented redshirt freshman, Jimmy Hutchinson, inheriting the reliable Clark’s spot at punter. Quan Bray might be the man who takes over at punt returner for Davis, who averaged 18.7 ypr (which doesn’t include his 109-yard field goal return to beat Alabama), but he could face a challenge from candidates like Trovon Reed, Marcus Davis or Johnathan Ford.

11. Tennessee: Considering how the Volunteers lost punter/kicker Michael Palardy (third in SEC with 44.5 yards per punt and 14-for-17 on field goals), it’s a good thing that they signed top kicking prospect and Under Armour All-American Aaron Medley. Tennessee has return man Devrin Young (25.9 ypr on kickoffs and 7.9 on punts) and backup punt return man Jacob Carter (9.3 ypr) back, as well.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return most everyone from last season (minus punter Baker Swedenburg, who averaged 42.5 ypp), but it remains to be determined whether that’s a good thing. They were mediocre or worse in most special teams departments in 2013 – especially at place-kicker, where Devon Bell (6-for-14 on field goals) and Evan Sobiesk (3-for-6) were hardly reliable. Bell (41.2 ypp) was a decent punter, but could face a challenge from signee Logan Cooke on kickoffs and punts. Return man Jameon Lewis (23.5 ypr on kickoffs and 2.3 on punts) is back, as is speedster Brandon Holloway (37.7 ypr on three kickoffs and 18.0 ypr on two punts), who is trying to crack the starting lineup at running back, but could become a dynamic return man if given the opportunity.

13. Ole Miss: By losing punter Tyler Campbell (44.4 ypp, fourth in the SEC), kicker Andrew Ritter (16-for-24 on field goals) and punt returner Jeff Scott (12.7 ypr), Ole Miss has plenty of holes to fill. They have kickoff returner Jaylen Walton (20.6 ypr) back and also signed the No. 2 kicking prospect for 2014, Gary Wunderlich, who is capable of becoming a standout performer as both a kicker and punter.

14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason didn’t seem particularly enthused about his special teams units after spring practice. The Commodores lost kicker Carey Spear (15-for-19 on field goals) and potential replacement Tommy Openshaw struggled during spring scrimmages, potentially opening the door for a walk-on. Punter Taylor Hudson (42.9 ypp, seventh in the SEC) is back, but he and competitor Colby Cooke were apparently not very consistent this spring, either. Vandy lost punt returner Jonathan Krause (3.6 ypr) and returns leading kickoff return man Darrius Sims (22.8 ypr, eighth in the SEC).

SEC Week 13: Did you know?

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
10:00
AM ET
With SEC rivalry week on deck next week, this might feel like the calm before the storm. But there are still a few games on Saturday that carry major bowl implications -- including Missouri-Ole Miss, LSU-Texas A&M and Tennessee-Vanderbilt.

As we prepare to enter the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, here are a few interesting tidbits from our friends at ESPN Stats and Information concerning this weekend's games.
  • Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel posted eye-popping numbers last season, but he remains on pace to match -- if not surpass -- those stats this season. Through 10 games last fall, he had an 89.5 Opponent-Adjusted Total QBR, while he has an 89.6 this year. His average of 392.4 total yards per game is up from 379.4 last year. And he leads the FBS with an average of 39 touchdowns rushing or passing, which is up from his 33 at this point last season. Entering Saturday's game at LSU, Manziel remains unbeaten in his career away from home. He's 9-0 away from Kyle Field with an opponent-adjusted QBR of at least 85 in every game -- the longest streak for any player in the last 10 seasons.
  • Missouri's James Franklin returns to the starting lineup against Ole Miss for the first time since injuring his shoulder against Georgia in Week 7. He was averaging 6.9 yards per play and boasted an 80.7 QBR when injured. Freshman Maty Mauk did an admirable job in Franklin's absence. He led the Tigers to a 3-1 record, although his average of 6.7 yards per play and 68.7 QBR both trail the totals for Franklin.
  • LSU held Texas A&M to 19 points last season in College Station in the Tigers' 24-19 win. That was the only game in Manziel's career that he did not account for a touchdown. His opponent-adjusted QBR that day was 51.2, the lowest single-game mark of his career by 21.3 points.
  • Chattanooga might as well not even bother blitzing Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron on Saturday. When opponents have sent five or more pass rushers, McCarron has thrown an SEC-high 14 touchdowns against just one interception. Meanwhile, Alabama's pass rush has been consistent, blitz or no blitz. The Crimson Tide has pressured opposing quarterbacks on 26 percent of their dropbacks, the highest percentage in the SEC.
  • LSU running back Jeremy Hill averages an SEC-high 8.0 yards per carry on rushes between the tackles (min. 50 carries). On such runs, Hill had season lows in yards (23) and yards per carry (3.8) in the Tigers' last game, a loss to Alabama.
  • Missouri's pass rush has also been effective without needing to blitz. The Tigers have sent four or fewer pass rushers on 88 percent of opponent dropbacks -- the highest percentage of any AQ defense. Nonetheless, the Tigers have an AQ-high 29 sacks and are tied for the national lead with 81 pressures (hurries plus knockdowns). Michael Sam leads the SEC with 10 sacks and Kony Ealy leads the league with 25 pressures. Sam has 23, which is tied for second with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Georgia's Leonard Floyd.
  • Entering Saturday's game against Coastal Carolina, South Carolina running back Mike Davis has 477 rushing yards after contact this season. Only Auburn's Tre Mason and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon have more among SEC ball carriers.
  • The combination of Jeff Scott's combination of breakaway speed and some good blocking by the Ole Miss offensive line allowed Scott to make it at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage before first contact on 45 percent of his carries. That's the highest percentage of any AQ running back who has at least 50 carries.
  • South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is dangerous as a runner, but he has been lethal when passing from the pocket this season. He is completing 67 percent of his pocket passes with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions this season. On throws outside the pocket, Shaw is completing 37.2 percent with five touchdowns and one pick.
  • Texas A&M's defense has allowed an AQ-high 57 runs on which the opponent gained 5 yards or more after first contact. The Aggies are also allowing an SEC-high 5.7 yards per carry on designed runs.
  • LSU is tied for sixth in the FBS with 70 offensive plays that covered 20 yards or more this season. The Tigers had just 59 such plays in all of 2012.
  • Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace's completion percentage is nearly 10 percentage points higher at home (69.2) than on the road (59.6). The Rebels are 5-1 in Oxford versus 2-2 anywhere else, and Wallace has tossed 13 touchdowns against three interceptions at home versus his 4-2 split on the road.

SEC Week 8 primer

October, 19, 2013
10/19/13
7:00
AM ET
It looked like it could be a Saturday full of upsets last weekend when Missouri stunned Georgia to start the day. The Tigers' road victory shook up the SEC East and put them squarely in the driver’s seat for a trip to Atlanta. Ole Miss nearly followed suit in the nightcap until Johnny Manziel led Texas A&M back in the final minutes. Will the Aggies luck run out this weekend against Auburn? Will there be another upset? We shall see.

[+] EnlargeMauk
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsCan redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk, making his first career start, keep the ball rolling for Mizzou?
Everybody is still a little surprised that Missouri is one of two undefeated teams left in the SEC at the midway point -- the other being the two-time defending champ Alabama. But the Tigers have won back-to-back conference road games, they’re ranked No. 14, and they’re finally starting to earn some respect. However, they will be without quarterback James Franklin for the next three to five weeks because of a shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk will start in Franklin’s place Saturday when Missouri welcomes a Florida team that ranks first in the FBS in QBR defense. The Gators lost their quarterback earlier this year, too, but the defense has kept them in contention for the SEC East. A loss Saturday could cripple Florida’s chances.

Georgia and South Carolina are also in the mix for the East, and both play on the road this Saturday. The injury-riddled Bulldogs will look to bounce back with a trip to Vanderbilt. They have won the last six meetings against the Commodores and 17 of the last 18. Quarterback Aaron Murray should pass Tim Tebow for the top spot in total offense in SEC history, as he needs just 30 yards to do so. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks are coming off an impressive victory at Arkansas and will travel to Tennessee this weekend. The Volunteers had the week off after nearly upsetting Georgia their last time out. Neyland Stadium has become a home away from home for Steve Spurrier, who will be coaching his 13th game inside the historic venue.

In the West, the game of the day will be down in College Station, Texas, between a pair of ranked teams -- No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 24 Auburn. It might be 'the first one to score 50 wins' as the game features two of the top offenses in the SEC. The Aggies have Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, who was brilliant last week against Ole Miss, while the Tigers boast the No. 1 rushing attack in the conference. Auburn will also welcome back quarterback Nick Marshall, who missed the last game because of a knee injury. The junior college transfer rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Ole Miss his last time out. When these two teams met a year ago, Texas A&M rolled, 63-21.

The other game to keep an eye on in the West is LSU and Ole Miss. The Tigers had to score a late touchdown last year to survive Hugh Freeze’s upstart team, but will it come down to the wire again this year? The Rebels are pretty banged up after the Texas A&M game. They lost four starters on defense, and running back Jeff Scott is not expected to play because of a thigh bruise he suffered against the Aggies. They’re also catching LSU at the wrong time. The Tigers’ defense played its best game of the season last week in a 17-6 win over Florida. It could spell trouble for Ole Miss, which has been owned by LSU in recent years.

And how can we forget Alabama, the nation’s No. 1 team? The Crimson Tide keep chugging along, and they’re heavy favorites again this week at home against Arkansas. The biggest storyline from this game will be the return of Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. On Friday, it was announced that Clinton-Dix had been reinstated from his two-game suspension after being notified by the NCAA that he is again eligible to play. The question is how much will he play against the Razorbacks? Here’s a rundown of Saturday’s games:

  • Georgia at Vanderbilt, Noon ET, CBS
  • South Carolina at Tennessee, Noon ET, ESPN
  • Florida at Missouri, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC TV
  • Auburn at Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
  • LSU at Ole Miss, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
  • Arkansas at Alabama, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
10:20
AM ET
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.

Five things: Alabama-Ole Miss

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
7:00
AM ET
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Get through this next game and regroup. That's the idea for Alabama after a shaky start to the season against Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and Colorado State. Should the undefeated Crimson Tide clear the final September hurdle and beat Ole Miss, the month of October will set up nicely with unranked Georgia State, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee all in a row.

Here's what we'll be watching when the top-ranked Crimson Tide get back to SEC play against the 21st-ranked Rebels.

Think positive: Nick Saban wants everyone to think happy thoughts. Alabama's coach has seen the frustration of the fan base permeate the locker room, and he doesn't like it. "The big thing we need, everyone needs," he said Wednesday, "is a lot of positive energy and to be excited about the challenges this team has." That is, the challenge of living up to its championship expectations. "They need to be supported and everybody doesn't need to sit around and say, 'Ah, what's wrong with these guys?'" Saban added. With that in mind, pay attention to the Crimson Tide’s body language and the attitude. If expectations really are getting to these players and this program, it will inevitably show on the football field.

Shore up the secondary: Nick Perry wasn't the be-all and end-all to the Alabama secondary, but the senior safety was one of the most veteran contributors and a calming force on the back end of the defense. Perry stands to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery, robbing Saban of a piece of the defense he could sorely afford to lose. Thankfully for the coach, though, Deion Belue appears to be ready to go after sitting out last week's game, which gives the Tide back its top on-ball defender. Now Alabama must find some complementary parts. John Fulton, who was manhandled by Mike Evans and Texas A&M a few weeks ago, didn't start until the second half against CSU. He's a question mark. So is Cyrus Jones, who continues to show some growing pains after transitioning from offense this offseason. Saban said a freshman would have started had Belue not been able to go. Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson, the two likeliest rookies to play, learned a lot against CSU, but they're nonetheless shaky with such little experience. They likely will be leaned on regardless, as Ole Miss likes to spread out on offense with Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan on the outside, Laquon Treadwell in the slot, and Evan Engram split out at tight end.

Establish the running game: Sixty-six yards isn't going to cut it, not in Alabama's offense, which is still predicated on the ability to run the football. The Crimson Tide mustered just 66 yards rushing against a Colorado State team that came into the game allowing an average of 160 yards on the ground per game. AJ McCarron said earlier this week how this year's team is different, how it might not be a run-first team. Although that appears to be true, Alabama still must have some measure of success running the football. Too much of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's scheme is dependent on working off of play-action. If the Tide offense isn't balanced, it simply won't work. Against an Ole Miss team that gives up just 114.3 yards per game on the ground (29th nationally) and 3.09 yards per carry (21st nationally), it should be even tougher sledding for Alabama. T.J. Yeldon & Co. don't necessarily have to run for last season's average of 227.5 yards per game, but getting over the 100-yard plateau would do wonders for the success and consistency of the offense as a whole.

Win third down: Because of that lackluster running game, third down has become increasingly difficult for Alabama. Second-and-long has led to third-and-long, which has led to a lot of punts. UA ranks 98th nationally and next to last in the SEC by converting one of every three third-down attempts. That number shrinks even further when it's third-and-7 or more to go. Although it's hard for any team to convert on third-and-long, Alabama can do itself some favors and pick up positive yards on first down and stay ahead of the sticks.

Tempo, tempo, tempo: It's the biggest thing that can take defensive players out of their rhythm, according to Saban, who said that communication and a sense of urgency are important against teams such as Ole Miss that like to push the tempo on offense. "When they go speed ball or hurry up and run a play really fast in 8 seconds," Saban said, "you barely have time to get lined up." Basically, it gets a defense out of whack by getting players out of position and making it difficult for the right play to get called in and relayed to everyone on the field. And Ole Miss does as good a job as anyone at creating that confusion with Bo Wallace upping the pace at quarterback whenever possible. He and running back Jeff Scott can go read-option and shake up the defense effectively. Alabama got a good dose of tempo against Texas A&M a few weeks ago, which should prepare the defense for what it will see Saturday, but, until the bullets start flying, it's hard to tell what the response will be.

SEC lunchtime links

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
12:15
PM ET
We're a little closer to game day in the SEC. With several notable conference matchups on tap, here's look at some of the storylines, news and notes from around the league:

SEC players of the week

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
12:30
PM ET
Here are the SEC players of the week as announced by the league Monday:

OFFENSIVE: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
  • Completed 20 of 29 passes for a career-high 334 yards with four touchdowns, which tied a career-best for McCarron. His 5-yard pass to Jalston Fowler with 2:28 to play put Alabama up 49-35 and proved to be game-winner.
  • He had touchdown passes of 22, 44 and 51 yards.
  • He's now second all time at Alabama for passing yardage (passing Brodie Croyle) with 6,400 yards.
DEFENSIVE: Ego Ferguson, DE, LSU
  • Led LSU with eight tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, in the 45-13 win over Kent State. The eight tackles set a career-high for the first-year starter.
  • Anchored an LSU defense that held Kent State to just 58 rushing yards and 248 total yards.
  • LSU held Kent State to 4 of 14 on third-down conversions and just 1.8 yards per rush.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jeff Scott, PR/RB, Ole Miss
  • Returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown in Ole Miss' 44-23 victory at Texas.
  • Finished with a career-high 243 all-purpose yards, including a career-high 164 rushing yards and another touchdown.
  • The punt return score marked the second of his career.
  • He moved into fourth on the school’s all-purpose yardage list with 3,421 yards.
FRESHMAN: Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
  • Rushed 25 times for 115 yards and one touchdown in 24-3 win over Southern Miss.
  • First freshman in SEC history and first true freshman in NCAA since Adrian Peterson in 2004 to begin career with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games.
  • His touchdown capped a 14-play, 81-yard drive in the fourth quarter that featured eight rushes for 38 yards, an average of 4.8 yards per carry.
  • He leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally with 418 rushing yards this season, and his average of 139.9 rushing yards per game is second in the SEC and eighth nationally.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Clayton Stadnik, C, South Carolina
  • Making his second consecutive start for the injured Cody Waldrop, Stadnik graded out at 82 percent, playing all 87 snaps at center in the 35-25 win over Vanderbilt.
  • The Gamecock offensive line did not give up a quarterback sack or quarterback hurry while rolling up 579 yards of offense, the second-highest total in the Steve Spurrier era.
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
  • Recorded career-high three sacks as part of five-tackle performance with two quarterback hurries in Arkansas' win over Southern Miss.
  • Had two sacks on Southern Miss’ final drive of the second quarter with Golden Eagles at midfield to preserve a seven-point Arkansas lead going into halftime.
  • His three sacks tied for highest single-game output this season.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
9:00
AM ET
With another Saturday in the books, it's time to check out the best of the best from the day that was in the SEC:

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: So much for being a game manager. When Texas A&M forced Alabama to throw the ball early, McCarron had no problem slinging the ball around, throwing for 251 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. McCarron had no issue throwing downfield in the second half, either, as he finished the game with 334 yards and four touchdowns on 20-of-29 passing in Alabama's 49-42 win over the Aggies. He orchestrated some superb drives late, and his beautiful play-action touchdown pass to Jalston Fowler proved to be the game winner.

Alex Collins/Jonathan Williams, RBs, Arkansas: For the third straight game, each rushed for more than 100 yards. Williams ran for a game-high 116 yards and Collins followed with 115 in the 24-3 win over Southern Miss. It marked the first time in school history the Razorbacks had multiple 100-yard rushers in the first three games of the season. Each also scored a touchdown. Collins became the first freshman in SEC history to rush for 100 yards in each of his first three career games and the first true freshman in the NCAA since Adrian Peterson in 2004.

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: Sure, the Aggies lost a thriller at home, but Evans made Alabama's secondary look silly all day. He outmuscled guys for passes and showed some good speed on his 95-yard touchdown catch-and-run, which was the longest offensive play against Alabama in 10 years. Evans finished the game with seven catches for a school-record 279 yards and a touchdown.

Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: He grew up right in front of our eyes Saturday night, throwing for a career-high 339 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. The newcomer had some shaky moments, but he looked like a veteran leading the Tigers on their last-minute, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Down 20-17 to Mississippi State, coach Gus Malzahn put the game in Marshall's hands and asked him to drive 88 yards with less than two minutes remaining. Marshall completed six of his eight passes for 66 yards, including the 11-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left. He also scrambled 11 yards for the first down on a third-and-10 at the Bulldogs' 25-yard line. It was the first SEC win for Auburn in its past 11 tries.

Jeff Scott, RB, Ole Miss: Scott rushed for a career-high 164 yards and had a touchdown against Texas. He also sealed the Rebels' 44-23 win with a 73-yard punt return that went for a touchdown late in the third quarter to give Ole Miss a 37-23 lead. This was the ninth career 100-yard rushing game and the second of the season for Scott.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
9:00
AM ET
The first week of the season is in the books in the SEC, and it’s time to pass out some helmet stickers:

Arkansas’ offensive line: There were several candidates on Arkansas’ offense in the Hogs' 34-14 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins each rushed for more than 100 yards. Quarterback Brandon Allen passed for 230 yards and three touchdowns and was sacked only once. When you’re putting up those kinds of numbers on offense and creating that kind of balance, then you’re obviously getting it done on the offensive line. The Hogs finished with 292 rushing yards, their most since churning out 326 yards against UTEP in 2010. First-year coach Bret Bielema is all about a physical running game and was especially complimentary of center Travis Swanson and the way he was able to pull on some plays.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Looking healthy and very much in command, Franklin rolled up 362 yards of total offense in leading Missouri to a 58-14 rout of Murray State. Franklin, who struggled through an injury-plagued junior season, finished 26-of-38 for 318 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed six times for 44 yards. It was the most yards he’s accounted for in a game since racking up 392 yards against Baylor in 2011. The best news for Mizzou fans is that Franklin looked a lot more like the 2011 version of himself than he did the 2012 version.

Christion Jones, WR/RS, Alabama: Jones became the first Alabama player in history to score two special teams touchdowns in one game. The junior receiver returned a kickoff 94 yards and a punt 72 yards for touchdowns. He also got into the act on offense by catching a 38-yard touchdown pass. Jones became the first major college football player to score a touchdown on a punt return, kickoff return and pass reception in the same game since Kentucky’s Derek Abney in 2002.

Jeff Scott, RB, Ole Miss: He might be small in stature (5-foot-7 and 167 pounds), but Scott delivered a mammoth play Thursday in the Rebels' 39-35 win over Vanderbilt. The senior running back left everybody in his wake on an electrifying 75-yard touchdown run with 1:07 to play, answering a Vanderbilt touchdown only seconds earlier. Scott finished with 138 rushing yards on 12 carries and averaged 11.5 yards per rush. He also caught four passes for 25 yards.

Robenson Therezie, S, Auburn: Starting in place of the injured Justin Garrett at the hybrid “star” position in the Tigers’ 4-2-5 defense, Therezie intercepted two passes and had seven total tackles in Auburn’s 31-24 win over Washington State. Therezie’s final interception was a leaping grab in the end zone with Washington State driving for the potential game-tying score in the final five minutes. He returned his first interception 24 yards to the Washington State 28 to set up Auburn’s first touchdown. Therezie’s two interceptions in the opener matched Auburn’s total from all of last season.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
1:45
PM ET
A few SEC teams were in action last night, the first of the college football season, including a thrilling battle between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Looking back at last night and forward to this weekend's, here are some reads to get you through your Friday:
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- SEC Media Days was a lot of talk and not a lot of action. That's the way it always is. But in the midst of all the hot air circulating through the Wnyfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., last week, there was a sense of momentum, a feel for the way each program was headed.

For Alabama, the direction is clear. It's championship or bust again for the Crimson Tide. For the rest of the SEC West, it's a matter of playing catch-up and knocking coach Nick Saban's squad off the top of the mountain.

With that in mind, TideNation set out to rank Alabama's divisional competition, including a look at what lies ahead for each program.
College football prognosticator Phil Steele continues his look at the top depth charts around the country. Today, we're looking at his top running back depth charts Insider.

Steele has three SEC teams on his list, with Georgia taking his top spot. Alabama is No. 2, while Texas A&M is 14th.

It's hard to argue against having Georgia No. 1. The Bulldogs bring back the top one-two rushing punch in Todd Gurley, who led SEC running backs with 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, and slasher Keith Marshall. The duo combined for 2,144 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. There isn't much behind these two, but they did just fine with the majority of the carries last year.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanT.J. Yeldon returns to lead a deep backfield for the Crimson Tide this season.
Alabama has a very deep backfield that's led by sophomore T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year. He should compete to be one of the top players at his position this fall as both a slasher and a pounder. The Tide will get back the beastly Jalston Fowler, who is coming off of knee surgery, and scat back Dee Hart, who is also returning from a knee injury. Sophomore Kenyan Drake is back and true freshman Derrick Henry should help out as both a running back and H-back this fall.

As for the Aggies, they're also very deep at running back. Leading rusher Ben Malena (808 yards) is back, and he'll be working with some younger but very talented teammates. Brandon Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma, has the potential to be very special. Then you have Oregon transfer Tra Carson and sophomore Trey Williams. There is a lot of speed and athleticism in Texas A&M's running back stable.

I'd also keep an eye on Florida, LSU and Ole Miss this fall. The Gators will be led by sophomore Matt Jones, who had a very good spring and should pick up right where Mike Gillislee left off. He'll also get help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who left spring as the No. 2 back, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. Taylor had a good spring and Lane should come in and help right away.

LSU might have made Steele's list if Jeremy Hill wasn't suspended from the team. Hill's recent arrest has his future at LSU in doubt, but if he plays this fall he'll be one of the league's best. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue are nothing to sneeze at. Both have shown flashes in the past and Blue should be healed from a knee injury that cost him most of his 2012 season. Losing Hill will really hurt, but the Tigers have a solid duo in Hilliard and Blue to work with.

Ole Miss returns rushing leader Jeff Scott and a talented bunch of youngsters. Scott is a solid all-purpose-type back, while sophomores I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton came on strong late last year and this spring. True freshman Mark Dodson will get his chance to see the field as well after a strong spring.
It’s Rankings Week at TideNation. Every day we’ll rank some facet of the Alabama football program heading in 2013. Today we’re ranking the top 10 offensive players the Tide will face this season. On Wednesday we’ll rank the top 10 defensive players Alabama will face in the fall.

Ranking the offensive players

1. QB Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M): Alabama hasn't faced a Heisman Trophy winner since Tim Tebow starred at quarterback for the Florida Gators. And while UA didn't come out on top of the first meeting with Tebow in the SEC Championship, it did in the second. Alabama fans are hoping for similar results after a heartbreaking defeat to Manziel and the Aggies last season. Stopping an athlete with his unique skill set and ability to make plays out of nothing won't be an easy task, though.

2. RB LaDarius Perkins (Mississippi State): He did so largely under the radar, but Perkins was second in the SEC in all-purpose yards and out-rushed every running back in the SEC West not wearing crimson last season, tallying 1,016 yards on 205 attempts. With All-SEC offensive guard Gabe Jackson leading the way, he should be in for a banner senior year.

3. QB Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech): Thomas has been up and down in his career under center, but no one doubts the senior's arm strength and athleticism. He threw for just as many yards as AJ McCarron did last season (2,976), despite playing in one fewer game. And he finished 18th in the ACC in rushing with 524 yards. His ability to stretch the defense vertically through the air and horizontally with his feet will give Alabama headaches.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesAt 6-foot-5, Aggies receiver Mike Evans can dominate opposing defensive backs. Having Johnny Manziel as a triggerman helps, too.
4. WR Mike Evans (Texas A&M): With an entire offseason to prepare for Manziel, rest assured that the Alabama coaching staff has been busy devising ways to keep the fleet-footed quarterback stationary this time around. That means Manziel will have to use his arm to beat the Tide, and he'll have a good target to throw to in the 6-foot-5 Evans, who finished third in the league with 1,105 yards receiving.

5. QB Bo Wallace and RB Jeff Scott (Ole Miss): When they're executing the read-option and pushing the tempo, Wallace and Scott are hard to stop. Neither is what you'd call an NFL talent, but together they can keep a defense on its heels, as they did against Alabama last season. If they get going downhill and can convert on third downs, it will mean trouble for UA.

6. RB Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue (LSU): Alabama's duo of tailbacks has commanded the lion's share of attention in recent years, but LSU has quietly perfected its rotation of ball-carriers as well. And Hill and Blue should be respected as they're both prototypical NFL backs in terms of size and speed. Hill averaged 5.3 yards per carry, and Blue had two 100-yard performances in his first three games before missing the rest of the season with an injury.

7. WR Odell Beckham (LSU): He was a steady playmaker last season when he caught 43 passes for 713 yards, but he hasn't been much of a threat to score, settling for four touchdowns in his career. With new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in place and Zach Mettenberger a year wiser, Beckham could see his role expand as the Tigers look to inject some explosiveness into the passing game.

8. OT Jake Matthews (Texas A&M): More than weapons in the passing and running game, someone will need to protect Manziel from opposing defenses. Matthews is as capable an offensive tackle as you'll find in the SEC. If Alabama hopes to get its revenge against Texas A&M, it will have to find a way to get around Matthews and the Aggies offensive line.

9. RB Dennis Johnson (Arkansas): Bret Beilema leaned heavily on his running game at Wisconsin the past two seasons, handing his former running back Montee Ball the ball 663 times over that time. Now at Arkansas, Beliema will likely look to do the same with Johnson, who led the Razorbacks with 757 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

10. HC Gus Malzahn (Auburn): Malzahn turned Chris Todd into a respectable quarterback, morphed Michael Dyer into an All-SEC performer and helped Cam Newton to one of the best single seasons in college football history. Auburn's new head coach has a knack for getting the most out of his players and we'll likely see a few surprises for the Tigers this season, whether it's running back Tre Mason, quarterback Jonathan Wallace or an unknown commodity like wide receiver Ricardo Louis.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Saban vs. Meyer
Trevor Matich discusses the coaching matchup in the Allstate Sugar Bowl between Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12